John Sayles -- a real renaissance man -- is one of the more interesting talents on the quasi-independent American film scene. He writes, directs, acts (so handsome still at 60), composes, edits, and is one of the most sought-after script doctors in Hollywood. He has made a scant twenty films since 1979 and many of them fall into the category of an acquired taste. They are largely non-commercial and political, a splendid exception being "The Secret of Roan Inish" from 1994 (actually released by Disney I believe). He manages to attract talented ensemble casts (like both Robert Altman and Woody Allen), but his movies tend to draw smaller audiences.
This film, while never less than interesting, is probably not one of his best. His themes here are big business, the environment, and illegal immigration and how these feed off each other in terms of vested interests. Chris Cooper plays a Bush-like dimbo running for State governor, who can barely read his autocue. He is the son of a successful senator, Michael Murphy, who works hand-in-glove with local tycoon Kris Kristofferson. However, none of these actors are in the lead role. This is taken by Danny Huston (son of John, grandson of Walter) who plays a disgraced journalist working as a private investigator for a detective agency, which has been employed by a slimy Richard Dreyfuss (Cooper's campaign manager) to find out if the dead body of a migrant worker which turned up at a photo-opportunity was the handiwork of one of several suspected ill-wishers.
Part of the problem with this movie is the casting of Huston, who is a likeable actor with his cheery grin, but who doesn't have the heft to carry the story. Too much time is given to his failed love-life, especially the earlier loss of true-love Maria Bello. Sayles also attempts to incorporate too many layers of intrigue with too many characters, and the roles given to Tim Roth, Thora Birch, Miguel Ferrer, and Billy Zane, amongst others, are fairly dispensible. Only Daryl Hannah makes any impact as Cooper's estranged and sluttish sister. While Sayles makes a strong case for the catastrophic impact of commercial interests on the health of the environment, apart from the final image of hundreds of dead fish floating on the lakeside site of a new housing development, the diffuse story-telling doesn't quite get his message across in this instance. Still, lesser Sayles is rather more intelligent and interesting than much of the dross that not only reaches our screens, but that makes a financial killing as well.