Silver City
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // $29.99 // January 11, 2005
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 13, 2005
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The Movie:

Like British director Michael Winterbottom, long-time indie filmmaker John Sayles manages to investigate wildly different subject matter each time out, whether it be the Texas drama "Lone Star", the adoption tale "Casa De Los Babys" or this attempt at a political satire. Probably the director's most star-heavy picture, the film focuses on candidate Richard Pilager (Chris Cooper, attempting to play George Bush), who's running for the Governor of Colorado, despite not being particularly intelligent and having a somewhat controversial history. When the candidate is shooting an environmental advertisement, he throws out a fishing line and reels in a dead body. He's quickly taken away, leaving advisor Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) to figure out if this was a deliberate attempt to derail Pilager's candidacy.

Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) is hired to find out who planted the body, leading him across a series of characters, including Richard's sister (Darryl Hannah), a lobbyist (Billy Zane), a reporter (Maria Bello) and other various characters. The picture isn't bad, but I was expecting more from Sayles, who really could have provided an interesting look at politics. "Silver City" desperately needs some focus, and the mystery should have been the first thing to go - it's not interesting, feels generic and Huston's performance definitely isn't strong enough to lead us through this section of the film. There's also the political elements, an environmental issue subplot and a section about immigrants. Even at 133 minutes, there's too much here and it's not structured effectively. The result is that the film never really puts forth much insight (although the film occasionally hits the target, it's often neither amusing or dramatic, it's just there), and what could have been an amusing take (see Levinson's "Wag the Dog") instead never really amounts to a whole lot. It takes a bit of concentration just to follow what seems like 50 different characters (other cast members: Thora Birch, Tim Roth, Miguel Ferrer, Kris Kristofferson, James Gannon, etc) in a film that could have been much more enjoyable with only several.

Further still, Sayles doesn't present the strong cast well enough, with actors zipping in-and-out, their characters often not well-defined enough to make an impression. Cooper is pretty good, as is Richard Dreyfuss, but the others are mostly decent, at best. Sayles is obviously trying to hit points and deliver messages with "Silver City", but the material needed to be refined heavily - there's so many characters and too many different subplots, resulting in what Sayles was trying to get across being lost. It's not a terrible film, but it's probably the least of Sayles' work.


VIDEO: "Silver City" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Columbia/Tristar. Shot in 16mm (as with some of the director's other films - I believe the recent "Casa" was also shot in 16mm, although I could be mistaken), the picture quality looks okay. Sharpness and detail are fair, but inconsistent - the picture often appears moderately crisp, but some scenes can look noticably soft.

Edge enhancement is slightly visible at times, as are some instances of pixelation. On a positive note, the print looked to be in fine condition, with some grain (understandable, given the 16mm filming) present, but no considerable specks, marks or other print wear spotted. The film's natural color palette looked decent, as while colors were mostly spot-on, they could appear slightly smeary.

SOUND: "Silver City" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The picture could have essentially been mono, however, as the entire movie is dialogue-driven. Dialogue seemed clear and fairly well-recorded throughout.

EXTRAS: The main supplement is an audio commentary from writer/director John Sayles and his long-time producer, Maggie Renzi. The director has offered very informative, very insightful commentaries in the past and this one is generally no different. Although I didn't care for the movie, he does provide an interesting track, talking about what he was trying for, shooting on location and working with all the various actors.

A lengthy documentary takes a look at the making of the movie. We learn more about the events that inspired the making of the movie, and visit with the cast and crew, who discuss characters and story. Instead of the usual promotional documentary, this provides a nice on-set look at the making of the picture, with a lot of good behind-the-scenes footage. Finally, we get trailers for "Silver City", "Fahrenheit 9/11", "P.S.", "Rosentrasse", "She Hate Me", "Stander", "Stella Street", "Sunshine State", "Tae Guk Gi" and "The Secret of Roan Inish".

Final Thoughts: I was hoping for insightful political commentary in the latest picture from Sayles, but "Silver City" suffers from being seriously overstuffed and unsubtle. There's a few fine performances here and the picture hits the mark a few times here-and-there, but this is mostly a disappointment. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides satisfactory audio/video quality and a couple of good supplements. Maybe worth renting for fans of Sayles.

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