Silver City doesn't even take bronze

Sept. 21, 2004, midnight | By Pria Anand | 19 years, 10 months ago

Silver City is like the unholy lovechild of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Erin Brokovich, some outlandish, ineffectual combination of thinly veiled satire and underdeveloped champion-of-justice drama that begs the question, did writer/director John Sayles (Sunshine State, Passion Fish) watch his latest endeavor all the way through before unleashing it on us?

The movie's opening is a comical throwback to the Michael Moore aspect of this bizarre pedigree, with incoherent and overtly named Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper, who plays tongue-tied uncannily well) filming a campaign ad about the environment while fishing in the great outdoors. All is going smoothly, or would be if someone had remembered the darn teleprompter, until Dickie casts his line and hooks, of all things, a corpse. Overzealous campaign manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss), operating on the suspicion that the corpse is an ill-concealed attempt to sabotage "his" candidate, calls in private investigator Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) with orders to intimidate the names on his suspect list of political enemies.

O'Brien, a once idealistic journalist who lost all principles along with his job at a local newspaper, uncovers some unsavory connections between the "Pilager dynasty" (currently represented by Dickie and dad, Senator Judson Pilager) and the Benteen corporation that seems to own (and pollute) half of Colorado.

The latter portion of the movie abandons all humor, instead framed as the dramatic tale of an ordinary advocate (O'Brien) fighting tooth and nail against a web of corruption to expose the harrowing truth behind big business in a hackneyed take on A Civil Action and The Rainmaker. Dopey, disheveled Huston is endearing, but he's no Matt Damon (or John Travolta, for that matter), and Silver City is far too bitter to offer any semblance of the feel-good high of either movie.

Even less compelling is Danny's transformation from the ambitionless detective who answered his call to arms with the personal motto "what did I [screw] up this time?" to his driven former self with some prodding from ex-girlfriend and fellow journalist Nora (Maria Bello).

The movie concludes with what is clearly intended to be a moving, cautionary statement about the strain corporations place on the environment that falls far short, in part because of the conspicuousness of the statement itself.

"Don't be subtle," Raven advises Danny early on in the film. Silver City is a lot of things—clichéd melodrama, political lampoon, serious admonition—but subtle is certainly not on the list. Liberal viewers are guaranteed a laugh or two out of the first 30 minutes of blatant Bush bashing, but wait for the VHS; one thing Silver City will do effectively is make you grateful for fast forward.

Pria Anand. Pria is a senior. She loves Silver Chips, movies and, most likely, you. More »

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