Sunday, July 10, 2005

Message Movies: Silver City (2004)/Land of the Dead (2005)

Experiment in Viewing #12: Can agitprop hold up after it fails to do its job?

The filmmakers and cast of SILVER CITY made no bones about the movie’s intent. They wanted to help usher George W. Bush out of office. But the film debuted too close to the November election to have much impact. (Confidentially, I think some other film might have stolen its thunder.) I was curious, though, to see if it stood on its own merits past its expiration date.

The W surrogate is the dim bulb scion of a Colorado political family who’s running for governor. John Sayles often structures his films around a central mystery. Here it’s the question of whether someone is out to sabotage the campaign.

From the beginning, the story gets bogged down in issues. What’s worse is that the issues are so old hat that the movie itself can’t get worked up over them. Did you know that money influences politics? That businesses matter more than the voters? Why, in some cases lobbyists ... oh, never mind. It’s as if Sayles filmed an issue of MOTHER JONES.

Whatever you think of President Bush, it’s obvious that he’s given his opponents plenty of new material to work with. But SILVER CITY is content to stick with the Bleeding Heart Liberals’ Greatest Hits. Sayles should have taken his cues from Karl Rove. Attack your rivals on their strong points and watch them flail helplessly.

Plus, the movie’s a tad obvious. The candidate is named Pilager, for Christ’s sake. Chris Cooper does wonders mimicking Bush’s speech patterns, but having his character be a simpleton does the actor and the film no favors.

Contrast this movie with LAND OF THE DEAD. Like Sayles, George A. Romero loads his films with political content. His latest tackles the yawning gulf between the haves and have-nots and the use of fear mongering to keep the public in line.

Yes, there’s too much on-the-nose dialogue. There are also bracing action sequences shot in the efficient, muscular style of John Sturges or early John Carpenter. And zombies, zombies, zombies.

I’m all for reasoned discourse in politics. But in the movies, I want my issues served up with entrails and a kickass battle truck. They just help things go down easier.