Monday Movie: Silver City, by David Bax
Lately, as America’s center of political power keeps turning and turning in the widening gyre and things fall apart in Washington DC, I find myself reflecting on the last Republican presidency. With Donald Trump refusing to offend the disgusting racists in his support base and consistently, flagrantly prioritizing his own interests above the country’s, the complaints about bumbling George W. Bush seem quaint in comparison. Let’s not forget, though, that his was an administration that lied to get us into a war with Iraq, tacitly approved torture and, going back to the very beginning, legally maneuvered its way into the White House in a way that was so undemocratic and cutthroat, Trump himself would be impressed. Still, while Bush’s actions remain objectionable enough to get my ire up to this day, the protests that arose within the arts have lost some potency. John Sayles’ Silver City, the tale of a dim-bulb scion of a political dynasty (Chris Cooper) being played like a marionette by a ruthless campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss), a privately wealthy business mogul (Kris Kristofferson) and others, is enjoyable but rather toothless.
What stands out today, counter-intuitively, are the ways in which Sayles appears to pity, rather than revile, Cooper’s Dicky Pilager (subtle moniker, that). For instance, Pilager at first shows sympathy to the plights of both legal and illegal Latino immigrants until he’s told that he feels otherwise (this is apparently not dissimilar to the leanings of Bush, who supported 2007’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, a failed bill that, while far from perfect, was leagues more lenient in its provisions for legal status and eventual path to citizenship than anything we’ve seen or are likely to see from Trump’s hard-line nationalist agenda). In retrospect, this forgiving sort of view is probably the germination of the current cutesiness with which Bush is depicted while he, say, struggles with a poncho, somehow managing to get soaked and make you forget about waterboarding at the same time.
Silver City is far from top-tier Sayles (especially coming only two years after the still underrated Sunshine State, his best film of the 21st century so far). It’s overly talky and, at more than two hours, sprawling and unwieldy. As a sort of time capsule, though, it can be instructive in its timidity. When the next generation looks back at how we fought against Trump in the culture, let’s show them that we fucking meant it.