Silver City (2004 film)

Silver City

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Sayles
Produced by Maggie Renzi
Screenplay by John Sayles
Starring Danny Huston
Chris Cooper
Richard Dreyfuss
Michael Murphy
Music by Mason Daring
Cinematography Haskell Wexler
Edited by John Sayles
Anarchist's Convention Films
Distributed by Newmarket Films
Release dates
  • May 13, 2004 (2004-05-13) (Cannes Film Market)
  • September 17, 2004 (2004-09-17) (United States)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,384,395 (worldwide)

Silver City is a 2004 political satire and drama film. It was written and directed by John Sayles.[1]

Chris Cooper portrays an inept Republican gubernatorial candidate, a character that was noted for similarities to U.S. President George W. Bush.[2] The film's ensemble cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Huston, Michael Murphy, Maria Bello, Kris Kristofferson, Mary Kay Place, Thora Birch, Tim Roth, Billy Zane and Daryl Hannah.

The film is a "murder mystery [linked] to a political satire";[3] according to Sayles, it is "about electoral politics, but also about the press."[4]


Richard "Dicky" Pilager, the dim-witted scion of a powerful political dynasty, is running for Governor of Colorado. One day, while filming a campaign ad that shows him fishing at Arapahoe Lake, Pilager hooks a corpse on location. Chuck Raven, Pilager's campaign manager, hires Danny O'Brien, a former journalist who works as a private investigator, to examine the case. Raven urges O'Brien to find potential links between the body and Pilager's political enemies.

O'Brien's job is essentially to intimidate Pilager's opponents, and he has numerous revealing conversations with various people. He learns that business mogul Wes Benteen is using Pilager to promote his own agenda. The interviews also reveal further corruption: politicians, land developers, and mining companies are conspiring to ignore certain environmental issues. O'Brien also learns about illegal migrant workers, as well as a potentially damaging love affair.



Box-office and distribution

Silver City had a limited release in the United States, where it was marketed as a comedy about an "intellectually challenged, poorly spoken politician."[4] Sayles commented on that marketing approach in an entertainment interview for CNN:

You basically give it to the company, and they advertise it the way that gets the most people in the theater. [When it plays in] other countries, [they] may emphasize the Chinatown aspects.[notes 1] The problem with all my movies, because they're complicated, is they don't boil down to two sentences, so you emphasize this part or that part of it.[4]

The film played in 162 theaters at its widest, and earned US$1.4 million at the box office in Canada and the United States.[6] It also earned around $300,000 from both Ireland and the United Kingdom.[7]

Critical response

Silver City had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Market during the Cannes Film Festival. Critics noted the similarities between the fictitious Dicky Pilager and the real George W. Bush,[2][3][4][5][8] with some also seeing parallels between the fictitious campaign manager and the real Karl Rove.[2][3]

Roger Ebert praised the film but said it likely wouldn't change any votes in the 2004 election: "America is familiar with the way [George W. Bush] talks, and about half of us are comfortable with it. That's why Silver City may not change any votes. There is nothing in the movie's portrait of Pilager/Bush that has not already been absorbed and discounted by the electorate."[3]

Ruthe Stein called the film "wildly uneven" with "dull" stretches: " . . but the movie comes alive when Cooper is in it, especially his scenes with Richard Dreyfuss as Dickie's savvy campaign manager."[8]

Caryn James called the film's script and direction "exhilarating", characterizing the film as "a Bush-bashing work that is more than Bush-bashing" which "goes beyond election-year satire to reach broader themes of corporate power, campaign double talk and journalistic responsibility."[5] He also called the film a "detective story with a half-dozen major characters and a twisty Chinatown plot that begins when the environmentally hostile Dickie is filming an environmentally friendly campaign ad and fishes a corpse out of a river."[5]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 46% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 124 reviews.[9]


  1. These aspects are also noted in a New York Times article.[5]


  1. Silver City at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. 1 2 3 Rose, Steve. July 22, 2005. Film reviews: Silver City, The Guardian. Accessed January 20, 2007.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, September 17, 2004. Accessed January 20, 2007.
  4. 1 2 3 4 John Sayles against the world, a Todd Leopold review and interview from CNN
  5. 1 2 3 4 Political Art, Potshots to Sure Shots from The New York Times
  6. Silver City at Box Office Mojo. Accessed January 20, 2007.
  8. 1 2 Stein, Ruthe. September 17, 2004. Stein, Ruthe. San Francisco Chronicle, "My, this candidate sure sounds familiar." Accessed January 20, 2007.
  9. Silver City at Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed November 22, 2009.
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