Movie Review: Silence (2016)

Silence_(2016_film)You’ve got to hand it to director Martin Scorsese: When he’s obsessed with a subject, he pursues it with vice grip precision. He has evidently had the story of two 17th century Christian missionaries facing the ultimate test of faith in Japan (when their religion was outlawed and their presence forbidden) in his mind for nearly three decades, so it’s cathartic indeed to have his fever dream of a tale realized on screen. But while his epic Silence (C+) will undoubtedly become required viewing for graduate divinity students pondering its Big Themes for generations to come, it is a fairly uneven and punishing task for an everyday moviegoer. The acclaimed director strips down many of his showy virtuoso moves to flesh out a naturalistic period story tackling issues of gravitas. It’s often fascinating to watch the auteur plumb Herzogian man versus nature (and human nature) style plot lines against a stark and exotic landscape. He explores violence both physical and emotional in new milieus, and there’s lots to ponder as this film kinda happens to you. The Japanese actors fare better than the Hollywood ones: Issey Ogata is a revelation as a captivating antagonist, and Yōsuke Kubozuka provides wild-child wonder as a confused soul. Miscast as the film’s hero, however, is Andrew Garfield, a thoroughly modern actor who can’t consistently bear the cross of the film’s themes or of a Portuguese Jesuit character in the 1600s. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are similarly uneasy in their parts and generate a bit of a hollow center that may actually be symbolic. A hodgepodge hybrid of Apocalypse Now, Passion of the Christ and Salò with awkward narration and a needlessly lugubrious patchwork pace, it’s a film that will long be studied, both for its audaciousness and for its overreach. Now that Marty’s religion-themed trilogy of Silence, Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ is at long last complete, folks may welcome tales of confession, redemption, vengeance and sacrifice back where Scorsese does it best: on the mean streets of modern America.

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I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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Posted in 2016

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