Sayles, a maker of resonant historical dramas (Matewan, Eight Men Out) and complex social satires (Sunshine State, City of Hope), has chosen an easy target and missed his mark. Dickie disappears from Silver City early on, and what we're left with in the second half is a half-baked, anti-climactic thriller involving a corpse floating in a lake, toxic chemicals stored in a mine shaft, illegal-immigrant workers, and about a dozen or more corporate goons and various other thugs out to . . . out to . . . well, out to do something, though Sayles himself doesn't seem to have much of an idea just what that something is.
Using pristine Colorado scenery as his backdrop -- scenery about to be, ahem, pillaged by a real-estate mogul (David Clennon) and his lobbyist, played by Billy Zane -- Sayles attempts to indict Bush's lousy environmental record. But Sayles muddies the issue by throwing in a romance, a murder, and so much talk of conspiracies it drowns out the message.
With some thirty speaking parts -- including Kris Kristofferson as a media mogul who considers Dickie his own "treasure chest," Richard Dreyfuss as Dickie's Karl Rovelike pit-bull adviser, and Daryl Hannah as Dickie's stoned-out bow-and-arrow-slinging sister -- the movie's less a narrative than a Tower of Babel.
Also joining the party are Danny Huston, son of John Huston, as a disgraced journalist-turned-private eye, who is hired by Dreyfuss to investigate Dickie's would-be enemies; Maria Bello as a reporter and Huston's former lover; Michael Murphy as a senator and Dickie's powerful brother; Miguel Ferrer as a right-wing radio host; and Tim Roth as the suspicious editor of a political Web 'zine. Listening to them chatter is like surfing the Internet and landing on a message board populated only by the paranoid and panicked.
Silver City's attempts at satire and excursions into thriller are two disparate elements that never mesh. Is this a comedic Chinatown, a noirish The Candidate, or just some extended Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on far longer than it should?
Cooper plays Pilager as an empty head containing blank eyes; he doesn't possess any of the charisma that made Bush a contender during the Texas gubernatorial race. Dickie, when talking about such issues as capital punishment or the environment, appears completely bereft of conviction or even emotion; he's more automaton than human, a marionette whose handlers are there to feed him his next line or sentiment.
Sayles has never been much for technique, but his films are usually engaging enough to listen to and think about and chew on. But Silver City feels particularly amateurish and heavy-handed. He rambles until he hits upon the occasional point of interest, but digresses again until he loses you and whatever point he was trying to make. It wears out its welcome well before its halfway point, by which time you're either so tangled up in plot points you're strangling, or so bored you just wish you were being strangled.