Sunday 17 July 2005

Silver City (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Independent film written, directed and edited by John Sayles (who discussed the movie after this preview screening at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford). Chris Cooper plays Dickie Pilager, the right-wing gubernatorial candidate in Colorado. Richard Dreyfuss is his campaign manager, Chuck Raven, who hires an investigator, Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), to find three characters from Pilager's past (Miguel Ferrer, Ralph Waite and Daryl Hannah) who are known to bear grudges against the would-be governor, and let them know they're being watched.

Danny uncovers more than his brief, however, joining up the deregulated dots as he attempts to identify the Hispanic alien whom Dickie Pilager unwittingly pulled out of a lake while shooting a compaign ad on location. He reveals more about the troubles of Bush's America than he solves.

Sayles attracts an impressive cast, including minor roles for Tim Roth and Thora Birch as left-wing anti-capitalist web campaigners, and Kris Kristofferson as Wes Benteen, the Colorado billionaire entrepreneur. His writing of Dickie Pilager is clearly an atack on George W. Bush, whom he says was bought the Texas governorship by big money because the previous governor Ann Richards had not been friendly enough to business. Cooper's performance closely mimicks Bush Jnr, from the Spaghetti Junction sentences to the cowboy numbnuts swagger. His father in the film, Senator Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy) is an amalgam of George Bush Snr and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Dubya's brother.

The plot structure is rather like a slick US TV drama thriller with Danny Huston stumbling from lead to lead joining up the facts in his case by writing upon his wall at home in magic marker. There are familiar dramatic elements (treated, admittedly, without the Hollywood schmalz), such as an ex-girlfriend (Maria Bello) who regrets dumping him for her own career ambitions as a reporter; a broken marriage from a wife we never see; and a one-night stand with the nympho daughter of Senator Jud Pilager, Maddy (Daryl Hannah).

As Sayles himself said after the screening, it's important to show an alternative view of America (not that Newmarket Films would have won him much distribution at home). This movie was released in the months before the 2004 US election, but was drowned out somewhat by the less subtle diatribe of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Both Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi, seem despondent about the current political climate in the US, where analysts talk of red "facts" (Republican voting states) as if this "democracy" is a fait accompli.

Nugget: a smarter-than-average political drama with thinly veiled attacks on Dubya Bush and Karl Rove (Dreyfuss's character), but nevertheless strong performances from an impressive cast and an unconventionally open conclusion. Pessimistic realism: the good guys don't always win.

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