Danny O'Brien
Created by John Sayles

"I'm a detective -- you're an investigator. And the first rule is don't go finding more than you're looking for.""
Danny's boss puts him in his place,
and explains the world to him.

Thank God for NetFlix!

Or else I would have probably never caught Silver City, a little-seen indy flick by John Sayles rushed out in a fruitless attempt to derail the re-election of the Republicans in the American 2004 presidential election.

Sure, on the political level, it's easy to see it as just another over-exuberant bit of Bushwhacking (and Chris Cooper's portrayal of Dicky Pilager, a gramatically challenged Colorado gubernational wannabe captures perfectly you-know-who), but give Sayles credit -- despite its flaws, this is also a finely nuanced and often-thoughtful thriller that owes at least as much to Chinatown and the works of Raymond Chandler (much-cited by Sayles in the DVD commentary) as it does to Michael Moore.

Sure, it deliberately pushes buttons, and the large ensemble cast is heavily stacked with committed showbiz lefties (Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Richard Dreyfus, etc. -- and even Steve Earle pops up to sing during the closing credits), but at its core, it's as much about the corruption of the political process itself by special interest groups as it is about any particular political party.

And for you sports fans, it all kicks off with a great fishing scene that recalls both John D. MacDonald's The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper and Richard Hoyt's Fish Story. Bumbling Dicky, the ne'er-do-well son of powerful Colorado Senator Jud Pilager, decked out in fishing gear, inadvertently reels in a corpse during the filming of a campaign ad that attempts to portray him as a simple outdoorsy kinda guy.

Campaign manager Chuck Raven (Dreyfus) promptly takes charge, hoping to head off any suggestion that Dicky had anything at all to do with the stiff by hiring a local detective agency, suggesting they focus on the Pilager family's enemies to see if this is some sort of underhanded political trickery or settling of accounts. And at first it looks like a simple enough case for investigator DANNY O'BRIEN, a burned-out former reporter. O'Brien, ably played by Danny Huston, makes for an apealing eye, bringing a slightly dazed Fred MacMurray deer-in-the-headlights affability to the proceedings.

But nice guy Danny gets more than he bargains for, to the chagrin of both his pragmatic boss (Mary Kay Place) and his client. He eventually finds himself over his head in a toxic waste pool of influence and corruption, possibly involving lobbyists, the media , the local police, the mining industry, real estate developers, a nymphomaniac Olympic archery contender (Hannah), undocumented migrant workers, a rabble-rousing Web site heading by a former journalist buddy (Tim Roth) and an old girlfriend (Maria Bello).

As I said, it's all got a bit of a rushed feel to it, and too many of the characters, as appealing as they are -- not to mention the romantic subplot -- could have been better developed (or dropped completely). As well, the political points are often delivered with too heavy a hand, to the detriment of the story itself. But the solid cast, and some great camera work by the legendary Haskell Wexler, keep things moving along, and O'Brien is fun to watch as the unimposing Everyman Eye.

It'll be interesting to see how this one ages.

THE EVIDENCE

FILM

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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"...and I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."