of the (rich) people: Cooper in Silver City.
of the Union
by John Sayles
Day after day, the news
doesn’t seem to get any better. The socially conscious dramas
of John Sayles, such as the ironically but aptly named City
of Hope and Sunshine State, have usually offered
a glimmer of progressive light in the corporate darkness.
However, his new film about one state’s corrupt political
system, Silver City, is such a deliciously cool look
at the current political scene that it makes one wonder if
even Sayles has given up hope.
Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) seems awfully familiar. The
absence of humor, the bumbling manner and the complete inability
to operate without a script is—intentionally, of course—suggestive
of George W. Bush. As Silver City opens, former dumbass
frat boy and business failure Pilager is being pushed by his
U.S. senator-dad Judson Pilager (Michael Murphy) and a cadre
of cozy corporate pals into the Colorado governor’s chair.
The voters? Well, it’s the job of a political shark like Chuck
Raven (a smartly focused Richard Dreyfuss), Pilager’s campaign
manager, to fool them into voting against their best interests.
For example, there is the less-than-truthful “environmental”
commercial Pilager is shooting in the film’s first scene.
As this scion of a mining family fishes and extols the virtues
of nature, he hooks a corpse. Raven gets Dickie the hell out
of there, and, in a case of utilitarian paranoia, hires reporter-turned-detective
Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to warn some of Pilager’s longtime
enemies that they’re being watched, and to see if the body
might have been planted on purpose to embarrass the candidate.
The amusing thing is that of the three enemies on the short
list, only one is a lefty.
Sayles uses this setup to take the audience on a journey through
the sleaze, smoke and mirrors into the dark heart of political
reality. It ain’t pretty. Millionaires own the politicians
and the media; politicians fix the game and the media treat
it “like a sporting event”; and everyone else, from developers
to illegal immigrants, scrambles after the crumbs.
Our guide to this world is the detective. While Danny isn’t
particularly interesting in himself, the folks he meets along
the way are. Sayles’ great dialogue and lefty politics have
always attracted terrific actors, and this really comes in
handy here. Particularly memorable are Miguel Ferrer as an
angry right-wing radio host; Ralph Waite as a former EPA inspector
ground down by the Pilagers; Kris Kristofferson as a mogul;
Billy Zane as a scummy lobbyist; and, especially, Darryl Hannah
as Dickie Pilager’s very angry sister.
The main problem is that Danny Huston (son of John, brother
of Anjelica) isn’t a very interesting actor. He has his father’s
odd, sly way with line readings, but none of the menace. He’s
a shlub, and we have to spend a lot of time with him. Worse,
since Sayles is giving us such an unvarnished view of reality,
we are presented with a love story to supply the requisite
happiness. While it’s perfectly swell that reporter Nora Allardyce
(Maria Bello) and Danny click together, it’s difficult to
That said, the film is enormously smart and insightful, and
Sayles’ words are matched with a number of stellar images.
The film’s last shot, a parody of that too-CGI-to-be-real
image of thousands of boats converging on Troy, is
heartbreaking and hilarious.
Love Got to Do With It?
by Richard Loncraine
Sports movies are either about male bonding or romance—and
occasionally both, though this is often unintentional. Wimbledon
is a straight romance with some interestingly filmed tennis
Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) has reached the ripe old age of
32, is ranked 119th in the world, and is ready to retire from
professional tennis after one more go at Wimbledon. He has
a healthy sense of his limited career options, and a beguiling
self-deprecating wit to go along with the rueful outlook.
Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) is a fresh-faced 20-something
up-and-comer with a killer instinct, a bright future and a
fiendishly protective daddy-coach (Sam Neill). Naturally,
after the proper cute meeting and fast courtship, love follows.
The romance is surprisingly effective, considering that the
plot is older than Wimbledon itself: Peter starts winning
because Lizzie loves him. She gives him the drive to win that
this journeyman had never found in a long career. Chalk it
up to a smart director and skilled cast pretending that their
material is much better than it really is.
After having played a brainy second banana to Russell Crowe
in A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander
(and an amusingly despicable weakling in Dogville),
Bettany comes into his own as a leading man here. He has intelligence
and vulnerability, but what sets him apart from earlier Brit
actors—swaggering Michael Caine, fussy Edward Fox—is that
he’s so middle-class. In a cinematic tradition filled with
aristocrats and louts, he’s something new.
The tennis action is slowed down and tricked up Matrix-style,
which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is curious, however,
how little court time Dunst’s character is afforded—especially
considering she has top billing. This is Peter’s story, however;
she’s young and healthy, and we are to take her prowess for
Director Richard Loncraine has a spotty but interesting resume
that includes the Ian McKellen version of Richard III,
which draped the psychopathic hunchback in Hitlerian garb,
and Michael Palin’s early-’80s comic gem The Missionary.
Here, Loncraine keeps matters pleasingly light; even the obligatory
“evil daddy” scenes are kept to a minimum.
What the film can’t get around is the obligatory happy ending.
Wimbledon does too good a job setting up the high-pressure,
winner-take-all milieu of tennis at the Grand Slam level;
when true love triumphs and goodness and virtue flood center
court, it’s a little less than believable and a little more
than disappointing. While Bettany and Dunst underplay just
enough to take some of the sting out of this, Wimbledon
would have succeeded more if it had either a smarter ending
or a dumber beginning.