“Silver City” is the baby of writer/director John Sayles, he who brought us such classics as “Piranha,” “Battle Beyond the Stars,” “The Howling” and the Lewis Teague-directed “Alligator”.
Sayles has created something completely different with “Silver City.” It’s a political satire/noir/murder mystery/love story/drama, if you will, and it has one of the largest casts of any film this year. It’s also quite a great cast, notably for Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”), Richard Dreyfus (“Jaws”) and Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”) who are the not only the most prolific but best actors in the whole damn thing. Slow paced, but interesting, “Silver City” is a decent flick that entertains primarily because of the political turmoil our own country is in right now.
Danny O’Brien (played by Danny Huston) is the main character; a washed-up, lonely, loser of a man who used to be a political journalist for a left-wing Colorado newspaper who now works as a private eye for the See-More detective agency. When Chuck Raven, campaign manager for Dickie Pilager, (Richard Dreyfus) hires the agency to research a dead body found in a lake, Danny is on the job. You see, the dead body surfaced just as Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), in the race to be Governor of Colorado, is filming a campaign ad in the area. And Chuck Raven, shrewd and sharp, believes that someone may have planted it there. Handing Danny several suspects including Pilager’s estranged sister Maddy (Daryl Hannah), a right-wing radio personality named Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrer), and a lowly mine tour guide named Casey Lyle (Ralph Waite), Chuck gives him an order to get to the bottom of this crime. When Danny delves into the project, he begins to discover that there is more than meets the eye. There are clues leading to suspects, suspects leading to clues, and someone has gone through great pains to cover up something far larger than just a murder. For a while the film takes on a “Chinatown” feel, only it’s more confusing and longer and definitely not as fun to watch. Finally, Danny uncovers what must be the truth. By this time, however, the audience doesn’t really understand what the crime is, nor do they care particularly much. A long list of cover-ups involving the Pilager family, a tycoon named Benteen (Kris Kristofferson), illegal immigrants and migrant workers, and toxic waste borders on the absurd as this preachy film tries to denounce right-wing political beliefs and portray conservatism as an evil, albeit rampant, disease.
John Sayles is a clever writer and he creates fantastic characters (although “Silver City” has far too may of them). Sayles has a way with dry, wry wit and subtle shock value that’s rare in Hollywood. Richard Dreyfus is able to overcome his nasal, annoying acting and deliver a real performance. Tim Roth as Mitch Payne, the underground Webmaster who seeks out the “truth” about the government, as usual, has an impeccable American accent. He’s also a lot of fun to watch. It’s a shame he’s only in the film for a total of roughly 7 minutes. Thora Birch, in the film for an even shorter time, is stiff and sounds like she learned her lines on the set that morning. Daryl Hannah is an eyesore. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the more dignified and talented actors. To add to the list of bad performances is Billy Zane as Chandler Tyson, a political lobbyists vying for the attentions of Nora (Maria Bello), Danny’s ex-girlfriend.
“Silver City” is quite a dark film, and the character development is very natural. It’s a Noire-esque mystery without a kicker, a shocker, or a twist. It has a trite subplot that deals with Danny and Nora that sometimes feels like you’re watching an episode of “Northern Exposure”; it’s just not that interesting. Though very witty at times and with an interesting concept and a few fantastic performances to water down Daryl Hannah’s thespian puke (like Chris Cooper, who is phenomenal), the whole film is unfortunately too complicated and it drags out immeasurably slowly, especially towards the end.
The plot is so full of, well, stuff, and characters, and preachy political ideals, that by the time you reach the end of the film, it’s hard to decipher the crime.