Silver City (15)

Written and Directed by John Sayles
Screening at FACT from 2nd-8th September 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

There’s this politician, right? He’s been manoeuvred into power by this rich and powerful political dynasty, which is just as well for him because he’s way too dumb to have got their by himself. When he’s not mangling the English language into barely recognizable shapes, he’s horse riding with business buddies and consulting his ‘spiritual advisor’. Can you guess who I’m talking about? Well no actually, it’s Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper). Any similarity to persons living or President of the United States is purely deliberate. And predictable. And not worth wasting your time over.

In the story, Pillager/Dubya is running to be governor of Colorado. He’s posing as an angler for some stupid pseudo environmental campaign advert when he reels-in a dead Mexican instead of a photo opportunity. The candidate’s Karl Rove-alike handler and string-puller-in-chief (Richard Dreyfuss) quickly orders an investigation into four people he thinks might have a grudge on Pillager. With cringeworthy inevitability it turns out that the private eye (Danny Huston) used to be a bit of a radical back in the day, and he feels pathetic stirrings of indignation as he gradually unravels the Pillager family secrets. This is doubled when he runs into one of his old underground playmates (Maria Bello), who is now engaged to a caricatured corporate lobbyist.

Huston’s character deserves special mention, because it is one of the most unsympathetic characters I have ever seen on the big screen. Even though he’s supposed to be this big maverick, he never displays anything approaching rage against the machine. Instead, Huston just pulls this horrible wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression for 90% of his scenes. The fact that Sayles just can’t resist linking this apparent political reawakening to a reawakening of feelings for his ex-girlfriend is just feeble and shows what the director thinks of his audience’s mental capacity. It’s even more incredible that Danny Huston is Anjelica’s half brother in real life. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the wrong half.

Though Chris Cooper’s comedy Bush impression is spot on, you would have to already be obsessively anti-Bush to recognize the references to his family. So I’m certain that not one former supporter left the theatre having seen the light. And even if they did, so what? What alternative does Sayles offer us? Well, judging by Silver City’s focus on personality over policy and its September 2004 US release date, the only alternative is to vote for the Democrats. Never mind that they backed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, never mind that poverty grew massively under Clinton, never mind that their leadership is itself up to its eyeballs in the same boardroom bribes and slavish dollar dictatorship as the Republicans. No, just pull the lever and go back to sleep.

This is exactly the kind of self-pitying, hand wringing liberalism that has allowed the extreme right to seize power in America, because it has neither the energy nor the inclination to go for the jugular. Sayles and co clearly think they are being ‘edgy’, but Silver City is nothing more than porn for people who think that they are some kind of dangerous subversive because they think Bush has failed to win over ‘hearts and minds’ on their bloody Middle Eastern rampage. Like the Democratic Party itself, Sayles refuses to offer anything new or different, so the film was as stillborn as their 2004 election campaign.

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