23 May 2005

NetFlix Movie Review: Silver City

Just watched John Sayles's Silver City. I enjoy his films and in Silver City I especially liked the way in which the political campaign of Dickie Pilager only enters the film as connecting points between the power brokers and moneyed interests. The film implies several critiques that it doesn't develop: the consolidation of media outlets, the ownership of media outlets by people or corporations who may have cause to silence or divert media attention from their dealings, the underground of web news sites (i.e. smoking gun, drudge) as shock troops in scandalous exposes. The main theme, as usual for Sayles, is the big picture of corruption. Sayles has always had a hard-boiled sensibility, from Eight Men Out through this flick, and like the Coen brothers' Big Lebowski, this movie owes a bit to Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Much like in Chandler's fiction it's the small time operators and grifters who bear the brunt of the violence and punishment, while the wealthy use their money to distance themselves from direct involvement in the crime. Dickie Pilager is but a pawn in the game played by Wes Benteen, the object of which is further accumulation of personal wealth and power. Pilager is shown to be an empty suit, riding his father's Senatorial coattails and stumbling through press encounters and stump speeches like, well, like George W. Bush.

The Silver City of the title is a proposed housing development -- on the scale of a town or small city really -- built over old mining lands and the waste from those mines -- mines owned by Benteen. Sayles makes certain that the dots connect between industrial interests gutting environmental legislation, immigration policies as workplace control, and money as the motor driving politics. It's clear that in Sayles's world, it's the money men who control the country and not the government.

Watching the film made me think about a nice unit someone could teach on political films. I'd take Silver City, Tim Robbins's Bob Roberts, and Robert Redford's The Candidate. All three portray jaded views on the political process. If you wanted to expand the unit, add in Wag the Dog, or you could go back further and use Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and even Citizen Kane. The possibilities really are endless.

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