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Silver City

Movies | Silver City is rated R for language, but audiences are likely to be dozing comfortably in their stadium seats before anything offensive reaches their ears

Issue: "Kerry praying for votes," Oct. 9, 2004

What a snooze! Silver City is the first narrative entry-describing it as fictional wouldn't really distinguish it from the "documentaries" that preceded it-in the slate of anti-Bush propaganda hitting theaters in the run-up to November's election. And it proves that bad things happen when a capable filmmaker lets his ideological agenda get the better of him.

John Sayles is a resolutely independent writer/director known for films dealing with unusual characters-often with subtlety and compassion. Well, he's finally met his match, encountering a character type he doesn't know how (or doesn't want) to make human: that despicable creature, the conservative.

Silver City is rated R for language, but audiences are likely to be dozing comfortably in their stadium seats before anything offensive reaches their ears.

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The film's title refers to an abandoned mining operation in Colorado once owned by Dickie Pilager, now a candidate for governor of the state. To describe Chris Cooper's portrayal of Dickie as a thinly veiled take on President Bush is to credit the film with a subtlety it doesn't possess. Dickie is George W., or at least a liberal stereotype of the president. Mr. Cooper's character handles press conferences like a deer in the headlights, can't put a complete sentence together, and overemphasizes his pronunciation of "wrongdoers."

Early in the film Pilager's fishing line hooks a dead body while he is shooting a campaign commercial by a mountain lake. That leads the Karl Rove-like Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) to hire private investigator Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) to figure out what's going on. During the investigation Danny discovers-see if you can guess-corporate greed, environmental malfeasance, and a clueless candidate who's just the pawn in a game of much bigger stakes. With plenty of opportunities for speechifying, the film quickly becomes painfully dull, despite the mystery of the dead body.

Mr. Sayles also falls into the easy trap of the two-movie syndrome: The characters he likes are in one film, with depth and complexity; those he doesn't like are in another film entirely, one that depends on parody and exaggeration. Mr. Sayles can find the good in Dickie's loser sister, a promiscuous drug addict (who also happens to be a decent mom), but can't be bothered to consider an honest motive from a developer or right-wing politician.

Whatever his personal politics, the filmmaker in Mr. Sayles should know better.

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