More linear and conventional than such sprawling, intricate overlapping narratives as LONE STAR (1996) and SUNSHINE STATE (2002), John Sayles' pointed, unsubtle political satire revolves around Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), a pawn manipulated by powerful behind-the-scenes business interests and modeled none-too-subtly on George W. Bush back when he was a Texas gubernatorial hopeful. Pilager, the dim-witted son of powerful Senator Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy), is entering the homestretch of his campaign to become governor of Colorado under the watchful eye of cutthroat campaign strategist Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss). As Pilager is filming an environmentally oriented TV spot at picturesque Arapahoe Lake, a waterlogged corpse rudely intrudes on the bucolic scene; the bad-PR potential sends Raven into frenzied spin mode, because no one ever aced an election by being known as the candidate who went fishing and hooked a stiff. Raven hires private investigator Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), a disgraced newspaperman reduced to sleazy sleuthing for a local law firm, to investigate three individuals Raven suspects might be vindictive enough to have planted a corpse in the lake in hopes of tainting Pilager in the public eye: onetime mining engineer-turned EPA activist Casey Lyle (Ralph Waite), who blew the whistle on questionable mining practices suborned by rapacious entrepreneur and Pilager supporter Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson); right-wing radio host Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrar), who's nursing a long-term grudge against Raven; and Pilager's seething black-sheep sister Maddy (Daryl Hannah), whose modest personal ambitions have been thwarted by her image-conscious family since she was a teenager. O'Brien's investigation uncovers a corrupt web of influence peddling, exploitation of illegal immigrants and surreptitious toxic-waste dumping. The film takes its title from a real-estate development planned for the site of a played-out silver mine, where the soil is so contaminated with heavy metal effluvia that only world-class backroom dealing will get the project past environmental regulators. O'Brien's investigation lands him up to his armpits in dirt — literally and figuratively — but also reunites him with his still-idealistic ex-girlfriend, journalist Nora Allardyce (Maria Bello), who's nevertheless engaged to unctuous, amoral corporate lobbyist Chandler Tyson (Billy Zane). The murder mystery that drives the film's nominal narrative takes a backseat to a series of character sketches, and Sayles allows his ensemble cast room to breathe and inflect their characters with the telling details that all too often fall by the wayside in more mainstream films.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: R
- Review: More linear and conventional than such sprawling, intricate overlapping narratives as LONE STAR (1996) and SUNSHINE STATE (2002), John Sayles' pointed, unsubtle political satire revolves around Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), a pawn manipulated by powerful… (more)