Chris Cooper plays Richard "Dickie" Pilager, a gubernatorial candidate with the emphasis on the "goober." His handlers say "Dickie's not corrupt, he's user-friendly," and Silver City leaves the rich, dim-witted politico's real-life inspiration in little doubt. Dickie has Dubya's sibilant drawl and George H.W. Bush's difficulty with finishing sentences.
Dickie hooks a dead body while filming a political ad in the great outdoors. Campaign manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss, in full bray) hires law firm investigator Danny O'Brien (an uncharismatic Danny Huston) to intimidate Pilager family foes just in case they had a connection to the corpse. But during the assignment, O'Brien, a former muckraker, rekindles his old thirst for social activism, so he inevitably resolves to solve the murder and win back his estranged love (Maria Bello).
As in Sayles' superior Lone Star, a murder case leads to characters who represent the social strata of a specific place, and Silver City's trail leads to Internet journalists, desperate real estate developers, embittered miners and the hippie black sheep of the Pilager family (a scene-stealing Daryl Hannah). Always an exhaustive researcher, Sayles provides a step-by-step primer on dirty American politics and how perfectly legal loopholes -- like having an amoral lobbyist (Billy Zane) write environmental legislation -- prove to be the true scandals.
Silver City's plot spans from corporate takeovers of the media to the exploitation of illegal immigrant labor. In fact, Sayles so doggedly pursues his serious exposes that he abandons his satirical ideas. Silver City makes a framing device of the candidate's insincere campaign slogans such as "Richard Pilager Cares About The Environment." But Dickie proves too vacant to hold Sayles' interest, so he vanishes into the background until the film's heavy-handed finale.
With Silver City, Sayles lives up to the stereotype of the socially conscientious but humorless leftist. Imagine Ralph Nader trying to crack a joke on the campaign trail and you'll get a sense of Silver City's discomfort with comedy. Opens Fri., Sept. 17, at Lefont Plaza Theater.
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