John Sayles is considered by many to be one of the strongest voices of the American independent film movement. His decidedly schizophrenic résumé runs the gamut from cheekily scripted monster films to leisurely paced character melodramas like Lone Star.

Silver City, a lopsided left-wing polemic and farce, divides the audience down the middle, based on political persuasion. It starts off promisingly enough, with bold opening credits and a funny introduction to the central villain, a Colorado politician who reels in the corpse of an illegal alien while filming a lakeside TV spot for his governor campaign. Chris Cooper’s portrayal of the shamelessly named Dickie Pilager is such an explicit and over-the-top mockery of our president that it barely makes sense when characters in the film later make overlapping references to the actual Dubya Bush.

Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) is a hapless private investigator brought in by Pilager’s adviser (Richard Dreyfuss) to investigate the potentially scandalous discovery, after it’s decided that one of Dickie’s enemies may have deliberately placed the corpse. Pilager’s enemies include his sister Maddy (Daryl Hannah), underground conspiracy theorist Mitch Paine (Tim Roth), and radical talk radio host Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrer).

As O’Brien sinks deeper into the maelstrom of suspicion surrounding the dead migrant worker and Pilager’s interest in Silver City, a condemned mining village, the film begins to crawl at a snail’s pace. Sayles is trying too hard, and his concerns, which range from the exploitation of Mexican refugees to toxic waste dumping, clash with what is essentially a character study. There’s simply too much going on. While the all-star cast is phenomenally good (especially Huston as an eminently likable patsy, and the never-sexier Hannah, as a communist), the dialogue comes off stilted and stiff more often than not. Silver City’s occasional incomprehensibility almost works in its favor, as it underscores the frustration of the outnumbered and outvoted protagonists.

The film’s final shot of fish floating to Silver City Lake’s surface is heartbreaking, however much it may smack of knee-jerk environmentalism. When the credits begin to roll, and Steve Earle’s “Amerika Version 6.0” blasts over them, even left-wingers may have had enough of Sayles’ preaching, but Silver City is nonetheless recommended to anyone who likes their movies both passionate and opinionated.

Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills. Call 248-263-2111 for more info.

Gene Gregorits writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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