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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, February 25, 2024

Unfortunately misguided: A 'Silver City' without focus

There are some movies that make you want to scream in frustration at what might have been. "Silver City" is one of them. The film, written and directed by renowned director John Sayles, just doesn't work. The jokes fall flat, the script is poor though out, and the acting is for the most part uninspired and average.

Dimwitted Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is running a strong campaign for governor of Colorado. Before we go any further, it should be noted that Dickie's character might as well have been named Eorge-Gay W. Ush-Bay: He's a former frat boy, has a history of failed business ventures, and his father is an intelligent Senator.

Dickie is about as stupid as they come. He trips over his words like a kid with his shoelaces tied together; he squints a lot, and uses buzzwords like "wrong-doers" and "infrastructure". He also has a history of arrests for driving under the influence, and even wears a little American flag pin. Let's just say the writers weren't going for subtlety.

During the filming of a campaign commercial, Dickie snags a dead body with a fishhook, and his soulless campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) hires an investigator named Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) to find out whether enemies of the campaign planted the body.

To recount the twisting, turning, misguided plot developments that follow in their entirety would be impossible. However, the quick version reads as follows: Danny discovers that a planned development named Silver City, built on the site of one of Dickie's failed ventures, is on land heavily contaminated by runoff from a refinery long since closed and covered up.

Danny also finds that the dead man was one of many undocumented immigrants who had entered the United States in search of work. Ultimately landing a job with a meatpacking plant in the Mid-west, he died as a result of lax safety precautions in the unregulated plant.

The plant's owner is Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson), an evil fascist-leaning mogul (think Rupert Murdock but bigger) who, of course, has close ties to the ultra-conservative anti-environment Pilager family. Wes manages to get fired for sleeping with Dickie's sister, and finally ends up back with his old girlfriend.

Got that? That was the quick version.

Perhaps the problem is that the movie can't figure itself out. It's part "Fast Food Nation," part "Fahrenheit 9/11," part detective story, and part love story. Oddly enough, it sounds interesting when put like that. But have no doubt; the final result is anything but.

The meandering plot lacks focus and it's not clear what Sayles is angriest about. Sayles tries to get too many issues across too quickly. He's upset that the Bush family has taken over the country with buzzwords, cover-ups, and false patriotism. He is furious at agriculture super businesses for raping the environment and luring millions of undocumented Mexicans into de facto slavery. Sayles is also distressed that mainstream media is reluctant to uncover cover-ups in fear of retribution (just look at CBS). Not least of all, he is dismayed at our lack of action.

If only Sayles had taken a deep breath and distilled his anger into a coherent attack by leaving out the forced and ridiculous love story.

Through the tangled mess of the final product, a couple of performances and lines manage to shine through. Always underappreciated, Billy Zane is wonderful as a morally and emotionally bankrupt lobbyist. Sal Lopez is quite good as a smooth talking chef who's recruited by Danny because of his Spanish speaking abilities. Veteran bit actor Ralph Waite, playing former mining inspector named Casey, steals the movie in one single brilliant scene with Lopez that should really have been saved for a better movie.

Wasted performances and talent are the norm in "Silver City," starting at the top with John Sayles. Sayles, whose previous movies include "Lone Star" (1996) and commercial success "Eight Men Out" (1988), has made his first truly poor film.

Cooper is hilarious as Dickie but underused and Kristofferson is also perfect as the terrifying Wes. But it's just not enough.

"Silver City" is a case study in why not to make a movie in blind rage. Yet despite all its failings, the movie at least aimed high. The issues presented in the film are urgent and imperative. It's hard to tell what Sayles thinks of prospects for the future, but it's clear that he isn't without hope.

If nothing else, take this opportunity to become educated and involved in the issues brought up by the film. Read "Fast Food Nation." Think about the dozens of Americans dying monthly in Iraq, and form opinions.