A review of “Silver City” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: R for sex, language, violence and mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes



John Sayles less-than-subtly lampoons the contemporary political process with a New West spin on the classic detective story.

Gubernatorial candidate Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper in a hilarious send-up of George W.) is trailblazing his way across his home state of Colorado, playing the fool at every campaign stop.  While filming a bucolic fishing spot and spouting off about an environment under siege, Dickie clumsily casts his line into Arapajo Lake and lands himself a very dead “Juan Doe”.

Dogged campaign manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) doesn’t like a bit, assuming the accident is a prank tailored to get Dickie’s goat.  Spin doctoring away from potential scandal, Chuck hires private eye Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to investigate a trio of potential unstables who may not have Dickie’s best interests at heart.

Danny’s snooping opens a jumbo can of worms and the sinister stink of corruption. Think Chinatown of the American Rockies.  Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrer), the free voice of the Colorado airwaves, has a grudge to bear. Black-sheep sister Maddy Pilager (Daryl Hannah) has cut her teeth on family disgrace, so why not now? Former EPA advocate Casey Lyle (Ralph Waite) has it in for the Pilagers because of an erstwhile slight.

Fueling the fire is developer cum media magnate Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson) who’s going to ride his privatization bandwagon to the bitter end. To further complicate matters (and slightly derail the plot), Danny’s still pining for ex-squeeze Nora Allardyce (Maria Bello), a tenacious journalist bedding mercenary political lobbyist Chandler Tyson (Billy Zane).  And the hits just keep on coming.

The Bush comparisons are difficult to ignore, not that you’d want to.  Dickie is the thick-as-a-plank scion of Senator Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy); the fortunate son of a right-wing dynasty who’s desperately backpedaling to avoid the tarnish of a toxic waste scandal. Cooper is Oscar-worthy as the “user-friendly” candidate whose best friend is a cue card.

Sayles manages to reign in his large and talented cast and keep the loose ends from strangling his narrative.  As he is prone to of late, Sayles sludges up his story in favor of hammering home his point, lacking the clear focus and crystal perfection of his Lone Star days.  Moral outrage flourishes over environmental plunderers, corporate conglomerates and undocumented migrant workers, all in the name of an entertaining, albeit rambling film experience.