Silver City

Can one little movie kick George W. Bush out of the White House? Michael Moore thinks so. If the prez gets a thumbs-down on Election Day, my guess is that Moore's will become the first documentary to win the Best Picture Oscar. Hollywood can't resist self-congratulation. Moore is not alone at Bushwhacking, but aside from the all-puppet political satire Team America: World Police, due October 15th from South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the only new non-doc to bash Bush is from indie pioneer John Sayles. p>Silver City is Sayles' fifteenth film as writer-director-editor, and his ambition energizes every frame. The Dubya figure, played by Adaptation Oscar winner Chris Cooper, gets a joke name that sums up Sayles' attitude toward Bush's environmental policies: Dickie Pilager. Dickie isn't president — yet. And he's not from Texas. The genial dork is running for governor of Colorado, where his senator daddy, Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy), has long called the shots. And will again if Jud and his corporate, media-spinning cronies wedge dumb Dickie into office.p>ooper has a ball with the role, fracturing Dickie's syntax in Dubya fashion and catching that lost look when a thought stalls in his skull. Sayles sees Dickie, and by extension George W., as an empty suit whose strings are pulled by greedy puppeteers. This may be true, but it limits Cooper's performance and the movie as a whole. p>ayles compensates by going the Chinatown film-noir route. A murdered body floats up in a Colorado lake just as Dickie is filming a campaign commercial. This fires up Dickie's campaign manager, Chuck Raven (a brutally funny Richard Dreyfuss), to hire Danny O'Brien, a reporter turned detective played by Danny Huston (son of the legendary director John Huston, who played Chinatown's archvillain). Investigating the roots of corruption has been the motor driving landmark Sayles films such as Lone , City of Hope and Sunshine State, but the mystery plot and the love story involving Danny and his ex-flame (Maria Bello) slow the film when it needs to soar.

The real action in Silver City happens on the fringes, where the mischief is. Daryl Hannah is spice incarnate as Dickie's sexy screw-up sister. Billy Zane plays a lobbyist with insinuating soullessness. And Dreyfuss feasts on the snappiest lines, explaining that when Dickie promises the Christian right that he will maintain cultural equilibrium, he means "no handouts for homos." You can fault Sayles and producing partner Maggie Renzi for biting off more than one $5.5 million film, shot in six weeks with thirty-five speaking roles, can chew. At least they're biting. In a Hollywood of multiplex mush, a vote here counts for something.

From The Archives Issue 377: September 2, 1982