Cinema Signal:

Sayles on Sayles -- see what he has to say about himself

. "Silver City"

What is there on the movie-making plantation this election year to have produced such a bumper crop of Democrat-sided films? The fertile harvest may have something to do with outright fear... of a Bush win in November. Or, determination to get swing voters to start formulating their judgements earlier and with a clarification of the issues at their disposal. At least as seen from their perspective.

Now, after a rich yield that includes Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", Robert Greenwald's "Uncovered: The War on Iraq", France's The World According to Bush, and the upcoming Bush's Brain, filmmaker John Sayles adds his satiric shovelfull with Silver City, a feature film which explores the ramifications of a political system that lends itself so well to corrupt and unseemly processes.

The film is aesthetically all over the place. Sleep-inducing expository scenes (most of those with Tim Roth, for some reason), classy flashes of performance and character (most of those with Maria Bello and one with fetching Thora Birch), platitudes and caricature (most of those with Richard Dreyfuss and Billy Zane), mix in with missed opportunities for drama because of pedestrian staging. But, Chris Cooper's performance as the inept candidate styled on George W. Bush, down to his mental tendency toward verbal destruction, is the reason the film has to be seen.

Which may be a difficult sell. The critics aren't raving and this may turn out to be a low altitude attainment on the Sayles monument of film, but it won't be because of the weaknesses enumerated above. It has more to do with the lead character. Taking us through the players and malefactors in the expos‚ of a political landgrab and an overconfident campaign that begins with the discovery of a dead body, is Danny Huston as ex-reporter Danny O'Brien now employed as investigator for a political P.I. firm led by hard-as-putty Grace Seymour (Mary Kay Place).

Huston is nice, he's affable, candidate Pilager's estranged daughter Maddy (Daryl Hannah) thinks he's cute and this is backed up by the simple fact that he used to be together with gorgeous reporter Nora Allardyce (Bello). But leading man material? All I think I should say on the matter is that the dynamism of Jude Law, Matt Damon or Will Smith is noticeably absent, and that's what the picture, if it wants to be a commercial success, needs. Huston, who played "hotel manager" in "Hotel" and "herdsman" in "The Bacchae" (don't ask me!) was entrusted with too much.

This could be symptomatic of the Sayles universe, in which loyalty may trump casting objectivity. But clearly, by virtue of being in the Sayles encampment, actors will be inspired to exert every acting muscle they have. Everyone here gives it their all, and this includes a stellar ensemble cast with the likes of Miguel Ferrer, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Murphy, the salty James Gammon, and a splendidly energetic moment with Ralph Waite. Sayles fans will not want to miss it but, most of all, Democrats should buy tickets for this campaign.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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