(director/writer: John Sayles; cinematographer: Haskell Wexler; editor: John Sayles; music: Mason Daring; cast: Maria Bello (Nora Allardyce), Thora Birch (Karen Cross), David Clennon (Mort Seymour), Chris Cooper (Dickie Pilager), Alma Delfina (Lupe Montoya), Richard Dreyfuss (Chuck Raven), Miguel Ferrer (Cliff Castleton), James Gammon (Sheriff Joe Skaggs), Daryl Hannah (Maddy Pilager), Danny Huston (Danny O’Brien), Kris Kristofferson (Wes Benteen), Sal López (Tony Guerra), Michael Murphy (Senator Judson Pilager), Mary Kay Place (Grace Seymour), Tim Roth (Mitch Paine), Luis Saguar (Vince Esparza), Ralph Waite (Casey Lyle), Billy Zane (Chandler Tyson), Alma Delfina (Lupe Montoya); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Maggie Renzi; Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment; 2004)

“Too close to reality to be effective as satire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Sayles’s (“City of Hope”/”Matewan”/”Sunshine State”) well-intentioned poke at George W. Bush and corrupt and power hungry politicians influenced by the wealthy to do their bidding, always remains obvious, hardly says anything new, is too close to reality to be effective as satire, fails to entertain and has no power other than to speak to its chorus. In other words, it’s the same liberal spiel Sayles has been going on about for years and in this pic it becomes too tiresome and should signal to the talented filmmaker it’s time to give such a storyline a rest. To make matters worse, it’s filmed in the noir style of “Chinatown.” This immediately tells us its political message is nothing more than an old proven movie plot line and that George W. doesn’t have anything to sweat from this pic.

Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is a dim-witted, inarticulate son from a wealthy influential family, whose father is Senator Judson Pilage (Michael Murphy). The party power brokers such as wealthy rancher/miner/real estate developer Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson) tap the first-time elective candidate to run for governor of Colorado in October of 2004 because they can control him to get the state government to be friendly to big business, ignore environmental, immigration and labor issues and grant special favors to his supporters. Dickie runs as the family value man whose slogan is “One God, One Nation, One Family.”

The campaign runs into a snag while shooting a political commercial as Dickie pulls in a dead body of an illegal Hispanic while fishing and his crusty, ruthless campaign manager/political fixer, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss), believes his man has been set up by possibly three enemies. Chuck goes to a private detective agency run by Grace Seymour (Mary Kay Place), who sends over as an investigator a former idealistic journalist named Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston-brother of Anjelica Huston and son of director John Huston), who was forced to leave the job he loves because he was framed after his true expose report blew up in his face. Chuck orders Danny to find out the identity of the dead man and put a not too subtle scare into the three who might be responsible for the embarrassing incident by telling them they are being watched. The three he visits are: right-wing radio talk show host Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrer), who can’t stand Dickie because he’s a weakling, a draft dodger, and not too bright; a former mine boss, Casey Lyle (Ralph Waite), who no longer can get a job in his field because he tried to be a whistle blower and now works as a tour guide; and, the candidate’s unhappy, jaded, dissolute, nutsy, nympho, failed Olympic contender sister Maddy Pilager (Daryl Hannah).

The narrative gets more complex as the more Danny digs into the matter, the more he finds out that reflects badly about the gubernatorial candidate and his influential family. Others that matter to Danny are his loyal editor, Mitch Paine (Tim Roth), also fired for going along with the expose story, but who is still idealistic as he now runs a muckraking website; the former newspaper reporter flame he still loves Nora (Maria Bello) who has taken up with shady political operative Chandler Tyson (Billy Zane)–involved with lobbying for the dubious Silver City planned community project being promoted by Grace Seymour’s husband Mort (David Clennon); and, Tony Guerra (Sal Lopez), a legal Hispanic immigrant working as a chef, who agrees to Danny’s offer to do some detective work into finding the identity of the corpse.

The main problem with the film remains not in its story being credible, but its caricature of President George W. Bush has already been done so often that it offers nothing new to get excited about; it failed to get me emotionally involved even though I’m a Bush basher from back when and think of him already as the worst ever American president.