“Junior can’t learn to read if he’s high on crack!”
This most delightful of exclamations comes perhaps halfway through “Silver City”, indie director John Sayles’s uneven attempt at political satire. Johnny, it seems, can’t learn to direct if he’s high on “Fahrenheit 9/11”. The movie starts off promisingly, with “Dim Dickie” Pilager (an underused Chris Cooper), the scion of a corrupt senator — himself, we learn, “not corruptible”, just “user friendly” — shooting a campaign spot for the gubernatorial race in Colorado. Enter the corpse of an undocumented Mexican laborer on the shoot site and some dark humor; my hopes were high for a cleverer, less hyperbolic Bush-bash than this summer’s much-discussed “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Sayles, who has gone on the record as saying he hates Bush and wanted this movie released just before election time, derails the premise of the movie with overenthusiasm, unnecessarily convoluted sideplots, and inconsistent style. “Silver City” jumps from black comedy to noirish thriller to political satire awkwardly, though always looking like a film shot for peanuts ($5.5 million in peanuts, to be precise).
That’s not to say that “Silver City” doesn’t have its bright spots. Chris Cooper, who is clearly enjoying himself here, mangles his words and projects the blank, slightly dazed expression of a little man dressed up in a big suit. His cringeworthy speeches to Christian rights groups and deafening stupidity provide Richard Dreyfuss with the best material in the film as a Chuck Raven, a Karl-Rove-ish campaign manager. Indeed, Dreyfuss easily steals the film with his from its nominal star, Danny Huston, who plays discredited-reporter-turned-sleuth Danny O’Brien, hired by Raven to investigate the aforementioned inconvenient corpse.
Flawed as “Silver City” may be, Sayles deserves credit for his ambition. His sprawling film is overlong because he is eager to make his argument complete. Corporate schemes, environmental destruction, immigration laws, fascists, conspiracy-theory websites and hired lobbyists (Billy Zane alert!) all feel the sting of Sayles’s zealous mission – there’s just not enough room in the movie for all of them. The titular development, which rides on Dickie Pilager’s governorship to relax safety standards, barely makes an appearance. ‘Cause honey, “Silver City” ain’t big enough for the both of us.
“Silver City” is now playing at the Princeton Garden Theatre on Nassau Street.