Silver City

Silver City Smokes
August 14, 2004
Mark your calendar now and plan to go see John Sayles’ new movie “Silver City” when it opens on Friday, September 17. It’s a powerfully entertaining story and – more importantly for any good book or movie this year – it’s powerfully anti-Bush.

Someone told me “Manchurian Candidate” was an anti-Bush movie. I didn’t think so when I saw it, not even in the way that “The Day After Tomorrow” was an anti-global warming movie. The Manchurian Candidate’s villains bore more features of Democrats than Republicans including winning in Democratic blue states. And the messages of the movie seemed to be that a bizarre series of events need not make sense, an incoherent happy ending can be relied upon, and you can’t corrupt a candidate without drilling into his brain and installing a chip in his back. Also, where was the media in this movie? How can you have villains and leave Rupert Murdoch out?

Of course, “Fahrenheit 911” was the most powerful anti-Bush work of nonfiction we’ve seen. If you want a straight attack on Bush and his cronies in the post-Fahrenheit era, “OutFoxed” may be the movie for you. If you want a fictional drama that grabs you more than any of these and makes political points indirectly, see “Maria, Full of Grace.”

But for a fictional story with drama, humor, and undisguised attacks on a grammatically challenged born-again corporate candidate and heir to corrupt power, a movie that tells us more about immigrants rights, environmentalism, right-wing politics, and media conglomeration than any others I’ve seen, go see this rich and textured film, “Silver City.”

“Silver City” is even better than Sayles’ recent “Sunshine State” and “Casa de los babys” if perhaps not up to the unreachable level of “Matewan,” Sayles’ 1987 masterpiece about union organizing in a mining town.

This new movie is something of a detective thriller, though with only one person shot and killed and only one car accident – and that involving a parked car. It opens with a pathetically dimwitted candidate for Governor of Colorado filming a campaign advertisement pretending to fish in a pristine lake. The candidate is played brilliantly by Chris Cooper — who, according to Sayles and his partner and producer Maggie Renzi, amused himself by imitating Bush even before this movie came along. Cooper casts his line into the lake and pulls out a dead body.

Cooper’s handler, played by Richard Dreyfuss, hustles everyone away, but the story behind that dead body develops as one instructive on the plight of immigrants to the United States and on the results of abusing our environment. The way in which the story develops, involving investigations by reporters from a number of types of media outlet, situates this movie, unlike many, in a reality recognizable to Americans today. Whether that is why Sayles and Renzi were unable to rely on their usual sources of funding and had to pay for this production themselves I can only speculate.

The movie includes a variety of morally ambiguous characters, like the small-time developer hoping to create his dream town, or the central character who has become an investigator for hire rather than the muckraking reporter he used to be. And the corporate king behind the scenes, played by Kris Kristofferson, puts a face on the Kenneth Lays of our world without demonizing them in the Hollywood manner that usually reduces our understanding of how others think.

Here’s my recommendation: find a Republican friend or a friend who doesn’t vote, tell them this movie is about a brave entrepreneur discovering silver and getting fabulously rich, and take them to see this movie. At the very least they’ll enjoy the entertainment.

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