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    Chris Cooper in Silver City. in Silver City
    Chris Cooper in "Silver City."

    Neither the gold nor the bronze

    "Silver City" is a pretty good John Sayles outing, not as tight as his very best films but still worthwhile for its dead-on hilarious jibes at the current president as well as its overarching story about society and politics out west.


    I have this theory, nurtured through years of observation in suburban New Jersey, that housing developments are named after whatever was removed to put them there. If you pass by, let's say, a Pine Grove Manor, you can be sure that the last pines were cut down decades earlier. The name survives only to give residents a wisp of a connection to the hardy outdoor life while they mow their lawns with their tractor mowers.

    Written and directed by: John Sayles.
    Cast: Maria Bello, Thora Birch, David Clennon, Chris Cooper, Alma Delfina, Richard Dreyfuss, Miguel Ferrer, James Gammon, Daryl Hannah, Danny Huston, Kris Kristofferson, Sal Lopez, Michael Murphy, Mary Kay Place, Tim Roth, Luis Saguar, Ralph Waite, Billy Zane.
    Cinematography: Haskell Wexler.
    Edited by: John Sayles.

    Related links: Official site |
    By the same token, "Silver City" is an excellent name, romantically evoking the old west, for an upscale Colorado housing development. Especially if the alternative is "Arsenic-Contaminated Abandoned Silver Mine Estates."

    "Silver City" the movie is about a lot of things, but they all tie in to a deal to turn a perilous old mining site into an idyllic lakeside community. Into this theme, writer-director John Sayles weaves a multicolored skein of threads. The developers will need to swipe someone else's water rights and paper over the obvious environmental impediments if they're to make their lucrative project happen — and that's where Dickie Pilager comes in.

    Danny Huston and Sal Lpez in Silver City. in Silver City  
    Danny Huston and Sal Lpez in "Silver City."
    Sayles regular Chris Cooper (his talents only recently discovered by Oscar for his role in "Adaptation") has already collected raves for his performance as the dimwit son of the former governor, now seeking the office himself. Starting with a little head-wiggle that's actually pure Reagan, he gives a flawless impression of the confused start-stop mannerisms of the current President Bush every time he has to answer a question.

    What are his priorities? "The environment, the whole environmental ... arena ... that's a priority. The roads, you got to keep your infrastructure ... in place ... where it's supposed to be ... That's a priority." So what isn't a priority? "What's not a priority is those matters which ... If you're going to have a front burner, it's like cooking, then you got to have a back one, and that's where you keep your other ... priorities." All this is really just comic relief within a bigger story, but as a satirical dart aimed at our extemporizer-in-chief, it's a bull's-eye.

      Kris Kristofferson and Chris Cooper in Silver City. in Silver City
      Kris Kristofferson and Chris Cooper in "Silver City."
    The bigger story has its twists and turns. Mystery sets in when Dickie, doing a campaign commercial with a fishing rod and a mountain lake, accidentally hooks a big one — in this case, an arm with the tattoo of a scorpion on it. The attached body will lead investigator Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), and others who do or don't want the answers to be known, on a tortuous path from high-stakes political fund-raisers to fields full of terrified Mexican farm workers.

    Sayles has made quite a few movies like this, with webs of connections between far-flung strata of society, and they've ranged from genius ("Lone Star") to just average ("City of Hope"). "Silver City," like a silver medal, falls in-between. Some characters and scenes work well, especially those involving Danny's Spanish-speaking compadre Tony Guerra (Sal Lpez) who helps him figure out where the body came from. Others (including Danny, at times) are a little clunky, and quite a few characters who might have been worth following (such as Miguel Ferrer as a hardcore radio host) are dropped in for one scene without an organic connection to the plot. Sayles has a destination in mind, and he gets us there in time, but there are bumps along the way. It's a good story, full of significance, but sometimes you can feel its earnestness more than its gut-level truth.

    SEPTEMBER 17, 2004

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