A movie about a dim, rich, conservative political candidate named “Pilager” (pronounced “pillager”) who finds a corpse on the end of his fishing line when he is makng a commercial is not going for subtlety. Did I mention that the family fortune started with manure? Do I need to tell you about the dead fish in the lake?
After “Hail to the Chief”-backed opening credits, we see a legend across the screen, “Richard Plager cares about Colorado.” He is fillming a political ad, and trying to get through a script that has him saying, “I’ve always turned to nature to sort things out in my mind, make sense of the world.” Someone points out that his lure is not going to attract any fish, and Pilager’s campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) responds, “We’re trying to attract voters.”
But there is something on the end of his line. It’s a dead body. Pilager and the camera crew are whisked away to another scenic location to finish the ad. And Hank is left to figure out what is going on and clean up the mess.
He hires investigator Danny O’Brian (Danny Houston) to see if one of Pilager’s three most likely enemies had something to do with the body. Danny was once a reporter who lost his job when a big expose turned out to be a set-up. Danny’s investigation takes him to a mine safety expert whose career was destroyed by Pilager (Ralph Waite of television’s “The Waltons”), illegal immigrant workers, left-wing reporters who keep databases of the web of connections between politicians and wealthy executives, and Pilager’s bitter and angry sister, a woman who is overly fond of marijuana and archery, and Danny’s own ex-girlfriend (Maria Bello), a reporter now engaged to a lobbyist.
This is certainly lesser Sayles, shrill, cluttered, even a little silly in its heavy-handedness. But it is still watchable, with beautifully understated performances. If he fails in its insights on the political side, he still knows how to create a dozen characters we want to spend time with with dialogue it is a pleasure to hear.
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of mature material, including explicit sexual references and situations, very strong language, and violence. Characters are in peril and some are badly injured or killed. Characters drink and smoke cigarettes and marijuana. While some characters exhibit racism, a strength of the movie is the loyal and respectful relationships between people of different races and its own frank portrayal of issues of race and class.
Families who see this movie should talk about how accurately it portrays political issues relating to immigration, development, and the role of lobbyists. They should also talk about the ways that characters in the movie try to shape the way that information reaches politicians, the media, and the public.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Sayles movies, including Return of the Seacaucus Seven and Eight Men Out.