Silence Movie Review
You’ll want him to step on the damn tablet 20 minutes into Martin Scorsese’s 2.5-hour slog Silence, a nice-looking film that nearly gets the benefit of the doubt because after all it’s a Martin fucking Scorsese movie but then you realize this is one of those Martin Scorsese movies you’ll never ever watch again, because it just isn’t that good.
The “him” referred to in the above paragraph is Andrew Garfield, who, for the second time in 2016 plays a Christian so blindly devout you want to punch him in the face to strike some reason into his skinny brain. At least in Hacksaw Ridge, director Mel Gibson gave us some bloody World War II action. Silence is a film that is sorely lacking a score (Scorsese takes that title a bit too literally), unnecessary long scenes of 17th century Jesuit priests facing the same conundrum over and over and over again (let the stupid Japanese peasants who are so uneducated they’ll follow the word of God to their deaths die, or maybe just step on that damn tablet of Jesus to spare everyone, including the audience, nearly three hours of suffering).
Silence isn’t a terrible movie. Far from it. I mean, it’s a fucking Martin fucking Scorsese movie after all. The dude makes better movies in his sleep than a lot of directors do high on a mixture of cocaine and 5-hour Energy binges. The scenery is pretty. The cinematography is alluring. Garfield delivers a fine performance. Adam Driver looks like no one has fed him since he filmed The Force Awakens. The actual plot, as stretched and strained as it is, is somewhat fascinating.
But Jesus Christ Hail Mary Omaha, Silence is one of those overly long and boring movies Scorsese thought he could get away with because he’s Martin fucking Scorsese and people like his really long movies no matter what, right?
The biggest issue with the film is, simply, a combination of its length and the fact that it is downright boring for a good chunk of its runtime. It’s got other problems, but had this movie been an hour and 45 minutes, I probably would have convinced myself that it’s got enough things going for it and because it’s a Scorsese movie and all of the other movie critics are going to go apeshit over it because it’s a Scorsese movie that I actually enjoyed it. But at one point I checked my phone to see what time it was, hoping I was about two-thirds through, and discovered to my dismay I wasn’t even halfway… my heart began to tear. I began to entertain myself with the fact that my stomach for unknown reasons--probably because I was watching a long movie with no soundtrack and lots of quiet moments--was groaning so loudly and consistently it sounded like I was ripping farts every five seconds. The poor woman to my left. She laughed at me at one point, but I know what she was thinking.
The odd thing is that there is a fascinating story here, but Scorsese largely shoves that story into an awkwardly narrated 15-minute segment at the end of the movie that is somewhere between The Lord of the Rings please-just-end tedious and downright bad. Just when you think the movie is going to end, it keeps going.
Scorsese fixates so much on the slow, psychological destruction of Andrew Garfield’s character--resulting in a few scenes where Garfield just laughs hysterically, and not in a good, here’s-my-Oscar-clip kind of way--that he forgets to explore the more interesting aspects that his story presents (spoilers to follow): what is life like as a fallen priest? After you finally trampled the image of Jesus Christ and apostatized to psychologically break the will of the hidden Christians in the country, what happened to the hidden Christians in the country?
Scorsese attempts to answer these ever so slightly (OK, not really) at the end, through narration, but when you’re telling us the truly good stuff like it’s a crawl at the beginning of a Star Wars prequel movie, you’re not showing the truly good stuff. The psychological stuff is good for a while, but not for nearly three hours.
Ultimately, Garfield is pretty good in the movie. There’s no denying that he’s a good actor, and he gives it his all. And yet, because I had so little compassion for his character (in part because he’s a missionary trying to spread the word of God, and like so many missionaries trying to spread the word of God to uneducated peasants, he and his colleagues likely made life a lot worse for these people) and that Scorsese so painstakingly demonstrates to us every minutia of his transformation, it was hard for me to love his performance. In fact, I didn’t love any of the performances in the movie. When Liam Neeson finally shows up (looking like Qui-Gon from The Phantom Menace, but thankfully not playing an elderly action star), he acts as though he’s overdosing on antidepressants. Driver is fine, but isn’t given a lot to do. And while Shin’ya Tsukamoto is sort of memorable, it’s hard not to question whether he’s playing a caricature or not.
So here we are with this movie that people are going to claim they love because it’s a Martin fucking Scorsese movie, even though it’s way too long, way too boring and just downright tedious at times. I wanted to love this movie, and even as I walked out of theater I had convinced myself that “yeah, it was way too long and sort of boring but it was still sort of good because Martin fucking Scorsese,” but by God Silence just isn’t all that good.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.