Silver Man (2000) is an uneven film about a bunch of unbalanced people. Much like the characters in this film learning not to judge a man by the color of his skin, you can't judge this DVD by its cover. While it's marketed as a mob movie with lots of action, it's actually a drama with just a little bit of kung fu.
Silver Man is very much a Canadian movie, Canadian-produced and shot in Toronto, using a lot of Canadian actors. It's a low budget movie, with no CG or explosions, but it has a few big name actors in it (Eugene Levy, Daniel Baldwin, Joe Pantoliano), and it stays entertaining, being a good effort for director Peter Foldy.
In the film, a young man (Paul Popowich) with a birth defect that keeps all of his skin a dak grey color calls himself the Silver Man and plays the violin in public to survive. He lives by himself in a small apartment near the shore of Lake Ontario (although I'm not sure if this is where the film is supposed to take place), where he collects money from passers by who appreciate his music on the boardwalk. At night, he goes home and listens to the drama in the apartment next door, where Tiv (newcomer Audrey Lupke) lives in a destructive relationship with her good-for-nothing boyfriend, Jake (Derek Hamilton).
Silver Man falls for Tiv, and when Jake gets himself in trouble with mob leader Leon the Lion (Eugene Levy), Silver Man sees a chance to get rid of Jake. He successfully manipulates Jake into leaving town and then successfully wins Tiv's affections. However, the complication isn't far away, as Tiv's loose ways are hard to break and questions of her loyalty drive a wall in between her and Silver Man. Things are made worse by Jake's return, and Tiv's reunion with him draws her into his mob troubles. This forces a classic final showdown, where Silver Man has to take on both Jake and Leon's crew at a night club to save Tiv. Will they survive?
Silver Man strikes me as a film that fundamentally wants to spread a message of tolerance, as we see that Silver Man, though different looking, is just as human as the rest of us, and even more human than the criminals he has to deal with. The explanation for his skin defect is mentioned in just a couple of lines of dialogue, and it feels like a contrived environmentalist jab that is just thrown in but never explored. Apparently, a polluted river near where Silver Man was born was blamed for his condition. Very little time is actually spent on Silver Man's character development, and instead we follow Tiv and wonder when she'll make up her mind about which man she wants to stay with. Hamilton's contrived, tough guy performance as Jake is horrible, and we inexplicably see him more than we do Silver Man. That's just bad writing.
And I don't know if the writers intended it this way, but none of the characters in Silver Man are very sympathetic. This si one of the things that ruined the movie for me. Silver Man often acts out in anger, and he uses deceit to win Tiv's heart. Tiv is, frankly, a slut, and frustratingly wayward. Jake is a moron, though I don't know if it was Hamilton's performance or his character's stupidity that I really didn't like.
Other than Hamilton, the performances are pretty good. Popowich isn't given all that much to do besides sit around and look mopy as Silver Man, and you can tell where his double is used during the fight scenes. Lupke is pretty cute as the really-not-very-likeable Tiv. Levy, though technically cast against type, still plays his silly self, making lots of hit-or-miss jokes about being both Jewish and a mobster. He still acts like Jim Levenstein's father, but a threatening one. Joe Pantoliano and Daniel Baldwin make appearances as a rich guy with a thing for Tiv and one of Leon's knuckle crushers, respectively.
The action is typical of a film without a big budget. There is one chase scene involving a car following a motorcyle, but the slow speeds at which it was filmed are a little too apparent in most shots. The crash at the end of it is unimpressive, especially by Hollywood standards, but it was probably a big deal for this production. The hand-to-hand combat, however, is a complete failure in my mind. Silver Man uses martial arts against Jake at one point (why must small budget films always have kung fu fights? They don't even dub in the punch sounds lowdly enough!). It just isn't believable that these two guys would fight that way.
There were quite a few noticeable problems with Silver Man, things that result from a small budget and short shooting schedule. The filmmakers seemed extremely happy to be able to film Hamilton on a motorcycle. They film him as he rides on a trailer (or shotmaker), and they film him actually riding on the road, tracking next to him (not very fast). They also use the classic telephoto shot, looking back at him from far ahead. His stunts are unimpressive (when it's really Hamilton on the bike, he obviously isn't going very fast), and they really just show him riding way too much. Maybe Foldy needed some extra screen time. Plus, I just have to mention this: Even with the image cropped down to 1.33:1 (!), I SAW THE TRAILER ON WHICH THE MOTORCYCLE WAS RIDING IN ONE SHOT!
Conversely, I do want to mention one very impressive steadicam shot that follows Silver Man around a dance club and lasts for 2:11. The choreography was really good in it, and a lot is expressed without dialogue in the shot. On the other hand, I swear that one of the extras looks at the camera as it passes by in that scene, as if to ask the cinematographer, "Are you sure you're gonna fit through there?"
Baldwin, Pantoliano, and Levy are all shown on the cover of this DVD, but in case you care, here are their actual appearance times:
Daniel Baldwin's screen time: approximately 2:54
Joe Pantoliano's screen time: approximately 2:20
Eugene Levy' screen time: approximately 9:00
Silver Man is presented in 4:3, so it is not enhanced for 16x9 TV's. This is ludicrous to me, since the film was shot on 35 mm in 1.85:1, originally. Movement looks blurry, which may signify some aliasing, which is ironic considering I was watching this upconverted and therefore progressive scanned, not interlaced. There is some good cinematography, especially in the moody interiors, but the most noteworthy shots are on location at places like a pristine Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, the colors are not very vibrant at all, and the image just isn't very sharp. Frankly the drab weather of the location shots on the beach doesn't flatter Toronto.
The audio on Silver Man is unimpressive. The main audio track is English 2.0, and there is no surround track. The sound design is decent, with good sound effects (some gunfire, the roar of Jake's motorcycle) on the rare occasion when they're needed. As far as the mix, the dialogue is pretty clear, but a little too quiet at times, which is twice as bad considering the lack of subtitles on the disc. The music is mostly obscure, contemporary, pop music, ranging from jazzy to punk, much of it actually performed by crew members. It feels a little jarring to hear such eclectic pieces of music within a few minutes of each other, and sometimes they don't really match the mood. The only other audio track is the commentary.
There is one commentary with Paul Lynch, who has no connection to Silver Man but is a director of television and film shows, and director Peter Foldy. As a senior member of the film community, Lynch is here to give legitimacy to the film. The commentary takes the form of a question and answer session, and it centers around the making of Silver Man. Lynch literally seems to be reading off of a list to ask Foldy to talk about every key cast and crew member. There is very little discussion of what is actually happening in the film, which doesn't say much for the depth of the story. However, the commentary is interesting if you want to know how independent films get made.
The Silver Man DVD can't entice you with its special features, but you may want to check out the film itself, just once. The story is mismanaged because it focuses on the wrong characters, but it's still a good effort for a film with such a small budget. Try to see Silver Man in its original aspect ratio if you can, and forget this "Rent It" DVD.