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19 Jan 2017

Sloppy Scorsese: The Great Director Makes a Rare Misstep With His Over-Long 'Silence'

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A scene from Silence. A scene from Silence.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence, aka How to Torture a Jesuit Priest Until He Says “Ah, Screw It!” and Looks for Another Gig, is the auteur’s most inconsistent offering since his misguided and sloppy Casino.

It’s clear that Scorsese poured his heart into this passion project, which makes it even more disappointing that it doesn’t live up to his usual standards. The movie is far too long (2 hours and 41 minutes!), and repetitive and boring to the point where it becomes laughable rather than having the desired effect of moving the viewer. Based on the Shusaku Endo book, Silence is a project Scorsese has been trying to mount since the ’80s—and it winds up being nothing but a waste of a great director’s time.

Two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), head to Japan in search of their mentor priest, Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira went missing during a mission years ago, and is rumored to have gone into hiding as a civilian with a wife. The whole setup feels a bit like Apocalypse Now, minus the excitement, capable storytelling and Fat Brando.

After the two priests split up, the film basically becomes a series of scenes in which Rodrigues witnesses Japanese Christians being tortured by samurais trying to cleanse the country of Christianity. He watches men and women getting drowned, hung upside down, beheaded, etc. To Scorsese’s credit, the violence, while horrifying, is never gratuitous.

Garfield’s character is essentially a Christ figure reminiscent of Willem DaFoe in The Last Temptation of Christ. He’s being followed around by what amounts to the film’s Judas, a guide named Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka). Kichijiro screws Rodrigues over repeatedly, constantly asking for confession, and even getting paid in silver at one point. His actions almost feel like a running gag.

The film does get better in its final act, when Rodrigues finally crosses paths with Ferreira. Neeson is so good that you’ll wish he had shown up a little sooner. As for Garfield, for every scene where he’s powerful, there are others where he’s overwrought and feels slightly miscast. Driver is excellent; the film might’ve benefited from him and Garfield switching roles.

The movie does feature some typically great Scorsese flourishes. A scene in which three men are tied to crosses in the ocean, continuously being pummeled by waves, is an absolute marvel. Rodrigues’ interrogation at the hands of an evil feudal Samurai governor (a creepy Issey Ogata) is mesmerizing. Had Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker taken a pair of scissors to the film and made it no longer than two hours, it might’ve done the movie a big favor. (I will sit through a five-hour movie if it is well done. This isn’t.) The sound and camerawork, as with all Scorsese films, are exemplary.

Coupled with Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, Silence represents the second movie that was technically released in 2016 by one of my very favorite directors to disappoint. It’s just another reason to hate 2016.

I didn’t like Silence, but I feel like I should have and could have; there were a lot of things in the movie I did enjoy. Scorsese just needed to rein himself in on this one.

Silence is playing at theaters across the valley.

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