Silver City (review)

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The Good Fight

This is the mess we’ve got ourselves into these days, where a satire about a borderline retarded candidate for high political office who is an obvious puppet for far more nefarious forces just isn’t satirical enough. It’s like what Lily Tomlin once said: No matter how cynical you are, you can’t keep up. That should be a lot scarier than anything John Sayles has to tell us.
Sayles lays bare, in Silver City, the mess that is the American political scene today: corruption, hypocrisy, ignorance, arrogance, fearmongering, divisiveness, and incipient fascism. And one’s initial reaction, if one is one who keeps up on what’s really going on and not just what CNN tells you is going on, is: That all you got, man? Tell us something we don’t know.

That’s not quite all Sayles got: there’s a murder mystery, too. A dead body washes up on the lakeshore where Colorado gubernatorial candidate “Dimbulb” Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper: Seabiscuit, Adaptation) is shooting a campaign commercial, and his very own personal Karl Rove, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss: Who Is Cletis Tout?, The Crew), is desperate to keep it quiet, lest his boy become connected in the public’s mind with dead things. Which is ironic, perhaps, because Dimbulb Dickie is a patsy for the billion-dollar corp Bentel and its overlord, Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson: Planet of the Apes, Blade), who wants, in the pursuit of endless profit, to turn anything green and healthy in Colorado into a contaminated slag heap poisonous to children and other living things, and wants to turn those patches that are already contaminated slag heaps into things like a proposed high-end housing development called Silver City. Or maybe it’s not ironic, because even if Dickie was already the candidate of death before the dead body showed up, no one knows about it… except maybe the scruffy guy (Tim Roth: The Musketeer, Planet of the Apes) who’s real bitter and runs the underground news Web site that no one pays any attention to.

It’s all very angry and funny, Cooper’s wickedly mean Dubya impersonation, all stumbles of the tongue and blank-eyed incomprehension; and Dreyfuss’s attack dog of a campaign consultant; and Kristofferson’s laid-back evil and amoral sense of entitlement (you know he’ll be Dickie’s VP running mate in Silver City 2: The Road to D.C.); and Miguel Ferrer’s (The Manchurian Candidate, Traffic) furious right-wing radio guy. Except they’re not even exaggerated — here they are, all selfish and stupid and shaking with rage that the entire planet doesn’t fall under their dominion… and maybe it might be funnier if we didn’t see these people already running the country. You’ll laugh until you cry.

There’s hope to be found, but it’s exactly the kind of get-off-your-ass-and-do-something hope you’d expect from a filmmaker who’s as much a progressive activist as he is a storyteller. For Silver City really is the story of Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston), the private investigator whom Raven hires to find out which of Dickie’s political enemies might have planted the dead guy, or might wish to cash in on a juicy opportunity to bring Dickie down the dead guy represents. Danny used to be an investigative reporter, used to work with the bitter Web site guy at a newspaper, back when newspapers mattered and people hadn’t forgotten that journalism was about speaking truth to power instead of the other way around. And now Danny is getting over his burned-outness and rediscovering his passion for muckracking. And he’s enjoying it, too, being a necessary pain in the ass.

So maybe the targets are easy and maybe Sayles is preaching to the choir and maybe that robs the film of some of the bite of his earlier work. But maybe some of us need reminding that all the complaining in the world won’t do a damn bit of good if you don’t turn some of the complaining into action, and that just getting out of the fight because you’re tired of it doesn’t mean the fight is over.

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