This supposed murder-mystery investigation into corporate and political greed and corruption is one of Sayles weaker efforts; it failed to get the financial backing it needed, was shot in just 6 weeks... and it shows.
Although Cooper and Dreyfuss turn in solid performances, Danny Huston just doesn't have the gravitas for the lead role, and Kristofferson, Roth and Birch are wasted in cameos.
But the main problem is the script. An unnecessarily complicated plot is mostly advanced through dialogue, with the characters giving long, tedious expositions whenever some backstory needs clarifying. It's as if Sayles himself didn't know where things were headed, and a huge number of loose ends are left dangling when the film finally grinds to a halt. The scene in the flooded mineshaft is pointless and seems to be an attempt to insert some weak thrills into the plodding narrative, and Huston's reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend is casually and lazily done, while the promising conflict of interests with her tobacco-lobbyist partner is never developed.
In the accompanying inlay notes Sayles compares 'Silver City' with 'Chinatown'. This is a big mistake. 'Silver City' has none of the wit, charm, excitement, mystery, tragedy and political weight of Polanski's masterpiece. It's nowhere near as good as Sayles' own best contender, 'Lone Star', which is still his most polished and subversive film to date, nor 'Matewan'. It's not even as good as 'Garden State' or the off-beat 'Limbo'.
But, still, 'Silver City' does have Chris Cooper, who is never less than brilliant, and his Bush-like incompetent would-be governor is the best thing about this disappointing movie.