The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, September 20, 2004
SAYLESMANSHIP: I haven't seen John Sayles' new film Silver City, but I loved A.O. Scott's
pan of it in The New York Times anyway: It summed up what I disliked about Sayles' other big-cast political movies, City of Hope, Lone Star, and Sunshine State. Some high points:

* "Like most of the characters in 'Silver City,' which opens nationwide today, Dickie dwells in a frustrating limbo, an idea uncomfortably trying to behave like a person."

* "I will forgo further plot summary because I don't want to bore you, and because 'Silver City' is itself more plot summary than plot."

* "Every time Mr. Sayles faces a choice between high-minded didacticism and persuasive drama, you can almost hear him tapping the lectern for your full attention. Occasionally, someone will throw a punch, shoot a gun or shed a tear, but mostly they stand around in medium-range shots, engaging in flagrant exposition. As Danny shambles along, asking the wrong questions and getting into trouble with the folks who hired him, you start to feel as if you're watching a very long episode of 'The Rockford Files' written by the staff of The Nation."

Sayles' sole big-cast, portrait-of-a-place movie that worked for me was Limbo, which (a) stopped being a big-cast, portrait-of-a-place movie about midway through, and (b) didn't have any political lessons to impart, which left the writer-director free to think about character and story. My favorite Sayles film is The Secret of Roan Inish, which has a small cast, no didactic political lessons, and an attention to character and dialogue (as opposed to caricature and exposition) that's completely absent from Lone Star et al.

I actually like what Sayles is trying to do in movies like Lone Star and Sunshine State. He's trying to film politically astute portraits of different corners of America, the cinematic equivalent of a sprawling social novel. Maybe if HBO let him do a miniseries, he'd have the space to illustrate his arguments with a story that doesn't feel like a clockwork-powered speechmaking machine.

Or maybe he'd just belabor the point even longer.

posted by Jesse 10:01 AM
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