When politician Dickie Pilager (Cooper) goes fishing for an election promo and reels in a body, discredited journalist-turned-private investigator Danny OBrien (Huston) is assigned to prevent further campaign embarrassments. But his curiosity about the c
This savoury political drama/murder mystery is very good news for fans of writer-director-editor John Sayles, who’s still the man among true independent American filmmakers. His 15th feature in 25 years (annoyingly, 2003’s Casa De Los Babys didn’t get a UK release), it’s his most accessible, entertaining work since ’96’s Lone Star. In customary Sayles style, a dozen or so key characters cross paths in unexpected ways for a sharp, satirical but rather despairing perception of the state of a nation. In his filmic progression around the US, Sayles has set this particular slice of life that lurks under the surface in Colorado, atmospherically shot by his eminent collaborator Haskell Wexler.
Silver City itself is an abandoned mining town earmarked for development and apparently the nexus of a conspiracy. Huston’s investigator, an idealist-turned-cynic, is given a list of people he’s supposed to intimidate, lest they derail the political aspirations of a nitwit with powerful men and despicable interests behind him. Each of the potential suspects Danny calls on has a good tale to tell, but no-one actually wants to listen. Gubernatorial candidate “Dim Dickie”, heir to a savvy senator (Michael Murphy) and the sock puppet of a ruthless corporate tycoon (Kristofferson), is blatantly inspired by Dubya, and Cooper’s speech and mannerisms are almost disturbingly hilarious, particularly when, like a rabbit frozen by headlights, he’s cornered by journalists. Without his unscrupulous campaign manager Chuck (Dreyfuss) or a prompter close by, Dickie panics into deranged babble.
The film’s release in the US before the last election was read by some as a liberal’s partisan bashing of you-know-who. But Sayles isn’t selling heroes among the Pilager machine’s foes either, not even the disenchanted, insomniac loser Huston portrays with a rumpled, philosophical charm. There are characters one likes better than others in the terrific ensemble (which includes Tim Roth and Thora Birch as website whistle-blowers and Daryl Hannah as Dickie’s bitterly estranged sister), but don’t expect too much from any of them. It would take more than a few good men to clean up the mess (the despoiling of the environment, the exploitation of immigrant labour, you name it) in a cautionary tale in which, realistically, people are what they are — mostly neither good nor bad.
Smart, intriguing, funny and sad, with some primo wisecracking dialogue. It's serious stuff, but sassy, too.