Monday, February 20, 2017

Silence (2016) - 5 stars out of 10

Silence (2016) - 5 stars out of 10

"Silence" is a lengthy look at the persecution of Christians in Japan during the 17th century.  This adaptation of the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endol is inspirational in the convictions of these Christians to stand up for their beliefs, heart wrenching as they are tortured and put to death for refusing to renounce their religion, and frustrating as we see the psychological attack on the priests who must watch others put to death unless they renounce themselves. The latter example creates an interesting dynamic as the priests must weigh the consequences of being an example to others by holding true to their beliefs (resulting in Christians being killed) versus publicly renouncing their beliefs to save a few lives (but destroying their message of following Christ).  This story sounds amazing, so how can the film be so emotionally bland?  I blame the lengthy runtime.  I understand that you don't want to leave out any details when you adapt a book into a film but a 160-minute film has to have more than 15 minutes of action to hold most peoples' attention. It gets to the point that when we finally meet Liam Neeson's character and learn the mystery of this film, we don't care nearly as much as we did in the beginning.  The overall tone is depressing and the lack of hope in a story of this length becomes exhausting.  This was director Martin Scorsese's passion project for over 25 years and he wanted to make it right but this sweeping epic became too big.  The performances by Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Neeson all have their impressive emotional moments at their most important turning points.  Unfortunately, these moments are too few and far between. Garfield's soft spoken narration does a better job of soothing you to sleep than engaging your emotions over the course of nearly three hours.  I will also say that it is a bit odd to see Kylo Ren sitting next to The Amazing Spider-Man in their first scene, but the typecast quickly fades away after that.  The acting isn't bad, it is just the nature of the meek characters that keep their emotions subdued for 90% of the film.  I would much rather watch Garfield in "Hacksaw Ridge" twice than see him in each film once.  "Silence" didn't do well at the box office due to its lengthy runtime and lack of Oscar representation but I think that the Academy got it right.  Scorsese deserved some sort of acknowledgement for bringing this career-spanning project to life and the nomination for Best Cinematography is justified by the epic nature of the Japanese setting.  It is one of those films that we just love to look at (though maybe not for two and a half hours).  At the same time, I don't feel that the slow paced storytelling can compete with dramas like "Lion" and "Arrival," making the lack of nominations a warning to moviegoers who don't have the patience to wait for the next part of the story to happen.  "Silence" isn't the type of movie that you will enjoy watching but its significance to Scorsese's career has made it a movie that film fans must watch and one that average viewers shouldn't.

[Pictured: "Silence" has its moments but the other two hours of the film makes it difficult to endure]

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