While Spike Lee rages and Michael Moore blusters, John Sayles quietly goes about his business as indie cinema's most thoughtful, intuitive and socially conscious filmmaker. Sayles' films don't make waves; they cause ripples that lap against the mainstream, refusing to be ignored.
Silver City might not be his sharpest feature, but it's still the product of a questing intellect that's forever making connections between the wealth and privilege at the top of the social ladder with the myriad injustices at the bottom.
The final part of a loose trilogy that began with 1996's Lone Star and continued with 2002's Sunshine State, Silver City follows those pictures' dissections of Texas and Florida with a sun-kissed slice of life in contemporary Colorado. Armed with another large, ethnically diverse ensemble cast and a generous (maybe too generous) running time, he skewers the vested interests and shady double-dealing that allow Chris Cooper's Dubya clone a virtually unchallenged path into high office. His masterstroke is to do it using the conventions of a '40s noir, complete with dead body, crumpled shamus and risky femme fatale.
Thus we find Huston's gumshoe investigating an engineer, a right-wing radio host and Cooper's estranged sister (Daryl Hannah), all of whom may or may not be implicated in a conspiracy involving migrant labour, lobbyists and an ecological cover-up. It's a dense and often confusing web, not helped by sluggish pacing and the director's preference for dialogue over action.
But while it's not up to his usual high standards, it remains an intelligent and (thanks to veteran DoP Haskell Wexler) handsomely photographed work.
With so many familiar faces, it's hard to name a stand-out, but Richard Dreyfuss is hilarious as a rabid campaign manager, while Cooper is marvellous as the out-of-his-depth hick who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a map.
It may not be one of Sayles' best films, but Silver City has plenty to say and does so with grace, wit and understated passion.