Silver City & Bush's Brain

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, October 11, 2004


The liberal-dominated movie industry has mobilized to defeat George W. Bush, but films, even low-budget quickies, are slow, unwieldy dreadnoughts compared to the swift boats of cable news and talk radio.

Fact and fiction don't so much collide as exchange glancing blows in two new anti-Bush movies. The documentary "Bush's Brain" presents talking heads complaining about the symbiotic relationship between the President and his campaign consigliere Karl Rove. The roman à clef detective film "Silver City," an ensemble effort helmed by veteran lefty auteur John Sayles, features Chris Cooper as a grammar-challenged conservative candidate based on Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as his Machiavellian manager Chuck Raven, and Danny Huston as the private eye investigating Republican corruption.

"Bush's Brain" is based on the well-researched 2003 book of the same name by veteran Texas newspapermen James Moore and Wayne Slater.

Like "Fahrenheit 9/11," this documentary climaxes with a moving interview with the parents of a solider killed in Iraq. While Rove certainly deserves blame for signing off on Iraq, he reportedly vetoed neoconservative demands in May 2003 to attack Syria as bad politics. Rove's crass and venal perspective on foreign policy at least wasn't as disastrous for America as the neocons' crazed and disloyal one.

The Rove it depicts is quick with a dirty trick, but as the subject for a movie, Rove lacks the gonzo magnetism of his late mentor, the electric guitar-playing GOP wild man Lee Atwater. The film never catches Rove's human side, but, then again, how many 168 hour per week political cadres actually have one?

Still, Rove displays a certain intriguing malevolence, in a doughy, dweeby, smartest-boy-in-Salt-Lake-City way. In the film noir "Silver City," the Brooklyn-born Richard Dreyfuss is miscast as Rove/Raven. Although aged and stumpy, Dreyfuss is a leading man by nature, not a character actor. So, he plays Raven as just a Mean Republican version of the familiar Richard Dreyfuss Character.

Some of Sayles' fictionalizations improve on reality, though. In "Bush's Brain," for example, a gentle LSU classics professor named Robert Edgeworth fussily recounts how Rove supposedly cheated him out of the presidency of the College Republicans back in 1973.

Sayles reinvigorates these dusty grievances by making the brooding victim a rabid rightwing radio host played by Miguel Ferrer, the son of celebrated Cyrano-portrayer José Ferrer and gal singer Rosemary Clooney. The fierce Ferrer inherited plenty of talent, although I must say his cousin George Clooney got all the looks.

Unfortunately, Danny Huston didn't inherit any of the charisma genes with which his father John (director of "The Maltese Falcon"), grandfather Walter ("The Treasure of Sierra Madre"), and elder half-sister Anjelica ("Prizzi's Honor") were so titanically endowed.

Indeed, Sayles appears to have cast poor Danny as the detective lead largely to remind viewers of his father's connections to the two most famous hard-boiled private dick movies: "The Maltese Falcon" and "Chinatown" (in which John played the politically powerful rich villain). This ploy, however, just draws attention to the fact that the ineffectual younger Huston is no Bogart or Nicholson.

That Chris Cooper, a late-blooming but brilliant character actor who won an Oscar as the motormouth orchid poacher in 2002's "Adaptation," portrays the President sounded promising. I'd hoped that Cooper could make sense of Bush's complex personality, which long ago dazzled Rove with its political potential: gauche in public but commanding in private; cocky with peers but intimidated by his father; cunning at politics but bored by policy.

Sadly, Sayles' script simply renders Cooper's candidate as inarticulate to the point of brain damage. You wind up feeling sorry for this harmless halfwit … and for the misguided liberals like Sayles who think they can beat Bush by claiming to have higher IQs.

By the way, Charles Murray and I calculated from Bush's 1206 SAT score that his IQ falls around the 95th percentile, which the late historian Jim Chapin estimated would put him only a little below average for a President. Senator John Kerry's test scores and grades are kept under tighter security than the Pentagon's Iran secrets*, so there's little reason to assume Kerry is any brighter than Bush, although he does seem more interested in current events.

In the President's lone losing race, his 1978 run for Congress from West Texas, the victor stressed Bush's two Ivy League degrees. Bush resolved never to allow himself to be outdumbed again. And the Democrats haven't outsmarted him since.

[* I later discovered Kerry's IQ score on the Naval Officer Qualification test and published it in "This Just In - Kerry's IQ Likely Lower than Bush's!"]


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