Friday, January 20, 2017

Silence Review

It's my final review of a 2016 release before I give you my lists of best and worst movies of 2016. Not that I'm done watching movies from 2016 or earlier years. I think it's always good to go back to past years instead of only watching brand new movies. And I still might give you reviews of "Hidden Figures" or "20th Century Women" if I get around to them. But there's always a small handful of movies that get a limited release at the end of December and expand nationwide in January that I feel I absolutely need to see before creating my end of year lists and this year that included "A Monster Calls," "Patriots Day" and "Silence." Now that I have seen all three of them, and recently reviewed the other two, it's time to give you my review of "Silence," create my end of year lists, then jump into the 2017 releases such as "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" and "Split." As pertaining to the movie "Silence," this was the most anticipated movie of the year for many people, and for good reason. It's the return of Martin Scorsese in a movie that looked absolutely brutal and intense. Could it be 2016's "Schindler's List" or "12 Years a Slave"? Well, not quite. But it's still a good film worth seeing.

The interesting thing about the anticipation of this film is that the marketing here kinda killed the movie. Usually this is the type of movie that the studio and marketing team would be completely open about. The Oscar formula is to send the movie through the film festivals, give it early screenings to awards voters, release it on a limited front in December and expand it throughout January when Oscar nominations come out in order to get the box office. Instead of doing all of that, they kept this movie a big secret. They didn't submit it in any film festivals. They gave it no pre-sreenings to voters, thus making it essentially ineligible for all the early awards shows that can give movies momentum heading into Oscar season. There was even a significant period of time where we didn't even know if this movie was coming out this year. They finally made the release date official, but it was practically last minute. Thus they played all their cards wrong, killing all the awards potential and their box office. So instead of being like "The Wolf of Wall Street" in 2013, which was nominated for five Oscars and earned $116.9 million in the U.S., this may walk away with no Oscar nominations and less than $20 million at the U.S. box office. Ouch.

But I decided to be a good little boy and give the movie a chance, even if it seemed like Paramount themselves threw in the towel before the movie was released. And this movie really worked for me. For like 80 percent of it. If you're wondering what the heck this movie is about, it's a story where Spider-Man and Kylo Ren decide to team up and go on a journey to find Qui-Gon Jinn. Ha ha, sorry. I couldn't help it. Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are just so freaking recognizable that I couldn't help myself. All of them do an absolutely fantastic job in this movie. Garfield and Driver actually play Catholic priests in the 1600's who go on a mission to Japan to find one of their fellow priests, who has gone missing there for many years. This specific priest, played by Neeson, was a mentor to both of them, or at least to Garfield. The issue here is that this is a period of time where Christianity was banned in Japan. And these Japanese people are absolutely brutal. If they find anyone who is Christian, they will force them to either deny their faith or torture and kill them. Yeah, not a super friendly environment to be in, but Garfield and Driver go anyways.

And holy crap is this movie brutal. Certainly not for the faint of heart. In many ways it does compare to "Schindler's List" and "12 Years a Slave" in terms of how hard it is to watch. Watching people get burned to death is uncomfortable. And so is watching them get slowly tortured in other ways such us dripping burning hot water on them, hanging them upside down for extended periods of time or essentially crucifying them in water. I won't go into any further detail than that, but the things that happen to people in this movie make you physically angry. And I think that was the point. Certain movies make a point to show how awful these situations were in order to display the reality of what people like the Jews in World War II, the slaves in the 1800's or the Christians in 1600's Japan actually went through. And these are the types of movies that that you are worth watching once in your life, but then calling it good. It's not like I'll ever just decide to go watch "Schindler's List" when I'm bored on a Friday night, but I'll definitely recommend it to people who have never seen it. I honestly think that's a movie that everyone, once they are a certain age, should watch at least once.

As I said, for most of this movie, it was on the level of a "Schindler's List." Our first major problem with "Silence" is the run time. It clocks in at 161 minutes. I'm not one to always complain at long movies as if it's inherently bad. I think the fact that we have increasingly short attention spans is a bad thing because sometimes you need three hours to give certain stories justice and many movies cut 30 minutes off their movie because they're too scared to have a long movie, thus compromising the film. But I will admit that if you are going to be 161 minutes long, you need to make sure that run time is justified and you better be able to keep people's attention for the entire time. The beginning of this movie did not capture my attention at all. Because they decided to take 161 minutes to tell their story, they felt like it was OK to ease into the story instead of jumping right into all the brutality of the situation. In theory this could work. But in this instance it didn't. I think they could've shaved 10-15 minutes off that beginning and it would've made the movie better. Once they got into metaphorical hot water in the movie, that's where things picked up and finally got interesting. But even so, I will fully admit that they could've also shaved off 20-30 minutes in the middle to end and also been fine.

I won't say too much about what happens to everyone once they get in trouble, but I was fully invested. I will say that Garfield and Driver get separated and we spend most of the movie following Garfield. And man, he gets stuck in quite the dilemma, which is where the movie get super interesting. He decides as a priest that if they torture and kill him, then he will die a martyrs death like Christ or the apostles and he's accepted that. But the Japanese are a little smarter than that. They don't keep him in great condition, but they start threatening him in other ways. If he doesn't deny his faith, they will keep hurting and killing everyone around him. I'm done saying stuff, but that adds new layers to this horrific tale and ends up saying a lot about personal spiritually versus organized religion. Not that it's anti one or the other, but the moral of this movie is very interesting and worth discussing with friends after you have seen it. I will briefly add that in order to be completely on the level of "Schindler's List" or "12 Years a Slave," there needs to be the emotional payoff or else the whole brutal journey is ruined. If I'm being honest, there came a point towards the end where I became crushed and angry. Then I had a period of reconciliation with myself and wasn't mad anymore. Thus there ended up being emotional payoff. It just wasn't as strong as I hoped it would be.

There's definitely a lot more than could be said about this movie and I am genuinely sad that Paramount and company played all their cards wrong and made it so this movie will be both ignored by Oscar and the box office. It deserves much more than $20 million or so at the box office (and that's being generous - it's under $5 million right now). Andrew Garfield gives a performance equivalent to that of his "Hacksaw Ridge" performance. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson give performances worthy of a supporting actor nod as do a few of the Japanese supporting cast. There's a lot of technical categories like visuals, cinematography and score that it could be awarded. I hope it sneaks in something. And I wouldn't even be upset if it had been given a best picture nomination. It's a worthy candidate. On a personal level I was bored with the beginning and not completely satisfied with the emotional payoff at the end, but there were points in the movie where I was thinking it could be my No. 2 movie of the year and I still think it's a movie worth seeing at least once. And it may be the type of movie that gets better over time as I think more about it. But as for now I will give "Silence" an 8/10.

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