Tuesday 3 January 2017

Review: Silence

Cert: 15 / 161 mins / Dir. Martin Scorsese / Trailer

"It is so often the way, sir, too late one thinks of what one should have said. Sir Thomas More, for instance, burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism, must have been kicking himself, as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, 'I recant my Catholicism'..."

~ Edmund Blackadder, 1987.

Okay, I'd be lying if I said Martin Scorsese's 160-minute exploration of belief didn't basically evoke ^that^ scene and my childhood memories of watching Shogun for he majority of its run-time.

In 1640, two Portuguese Catholic Jesuit priests (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) learn from a belated letter that a former mentor of theirs (Liam Neeson) has gone missing whilst carrying out missionary work in Nagasaki. Refusing to abandon him to his supposed death, the two travel secretly through Japan, a country that (at the time, obviously) holds a strong and brutal anti-Christian sentiment. On their journey they must evade detection by the authorities, tend to the underground Catholic community and of course have their own faith tested to breaking point...

It's not as dynamic as I've made that sound, unfortunately. The film's hardly meant to be entertainment I know, but Scorsese makes it feel a bit too much like hard work. And not in a 'ooh, their suffering looks terrible!' way, but more '...okay, where is this going?'. Languidly paced, deliberately ponderous and often self-indulgent for a story containing such urgency, I appreciated the craft of film-making, but wasn't particularly bothered either way by the rest of it.

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield are both on great form here, but the latter in particular doesn't seem to be quite ready for a role of this weight (yet). The naive determination we see in his performance feels like it belongs to the actor, not the character. Speaking of those two, it's not clearly laid out until more than half-way through the film that the 'English' dialogue we hear is in fact Portuguese. It makes perfect sense narratively and historically, but why waste time having Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield affect those half-accents they can't keep a grip of? (Liam Neeson pays this technique no mind, needless to say). There's enough pidgin english (or Portuguese, as the case may be) in the film as it is with the Japanese villagers, without having the leads needlessly mangling the script.

But Silence is a nicely shot film. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto uses a cool colour palette and a lens which is unflinching during the harsher moments without feeling exploitative. Not necessarily a film about faith, but having faith in faith. Naturally it's pretty heavy-handed when it needs to be, but that's the nature of the story itself. I just felt like this was 100 minutes of story stretched out for an hour longer than it really needed...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Shogun and Apocalypse Now.
Yeah, I said it

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you're on for it, absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I imagine it does and that that thing just wasn't really aimed at me.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, no.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Qui-Gon Jinn and Kylo Ren? Hell, yeah!

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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