Politics Inc.

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Is it political satire? Well, more or less at the center of Silver City there's a Bush-like family with a verbally, perhaps mentally, challenged son (Chris Cooper) who's running for Governor of a Western state. Is it a murder mystery? Well, there is this dead body found floating in a lake that everyone is either curious or elaborately incurious about. Is it an assault on America's environmental carelessness? Well, there are a lot of rich guys, led by Kris Kristofferson, doing shabby land deals that kill a lot of innocent fish.

Mostly, though, John Sayles' new movie is an uninvolving muddle. At his best, which is often very good (Sunshine State, Men with Guns, Lone Star), Sayles is a master of the multilayered, multicharacter narrative, taking a dim but not entirely hopeless view of human nature. This time, though, he is betrayed by a languid style (long, distancing Steadicam takes) and a group of good actors who resolutely refuse to take charge of their characters' destinies or the plot's point. Aside from a couple of energetic performances by Richard Dreyfuss and Daryl Hannah, the actors stand around doing exposition — or, alternatively, miming puzzlement. The largest offender in this regard is Danny Huston, who plays the lead, an investigative reporter turned private eye, and is loxlike in his lack of any emotion aside from Weltschmerz.

Maybe in this electoral season, when for once our politics are full of high passion (not to mention high dudgeon), Silver City suffers by comparison with reality. Michael Moore, among others, has either raised or lowered the bar on cinematic political discourse. For our sins, we now want something more gripping in tone than an earnest, wearying docudrama. This isn't it.