-Scorsese’s back with more unappreciated greatness and the indie dramedy hit of awards season arrives.
If you look down by the summary section of this review, where I give my score and who stars in the film, you’ll see that Silence is directed by the great Martin Scorsese, who I personally believe is the greatest filmmaker of all time. He has legitimately spammed five decades and has a chance to claim the best movie of each decade that he’s directed in depending on who you ask. There’s Taxi Driver and Mean Streets from the 70s, there’s Raging Bull and The King of Comedy from the 80s, there’s Goodfellas and Casino of the 90s, there’s The Departed and Gangs of New York in the 2000s, and you can then add The Wolf of Wall Street and Hugo here in the 2010s. Despite the movie not performing well in the mainstream (clearly because of the subject matter), there’s not a doubt that Silence is one of the best films of the year and another notch in the unappreciated brilliance of Martin Scorsese.
The movie concerns two Catholic priests from Portugal who serve at St. Paul’s in China are dispatched to discover the truth about one of their apparent leaders, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who renounced his faith after being tortured by the Japanese government. The two priests are Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), and they manage to find an entrance point in Buddhist Japan after befriending a disgraced former Japanese citizen Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), who takes them into a Japanese village flooded with underground Christians who have been forced to renounce their faith. The Japanese Christians live in fear due to the presence of The Inquisitor (Issey Ogata), a Japanese warrior who has been tasked with eliminating a Christian presence in Japan. Sensing that the people need them, Father Garupe remains with the people. while Father Rodrigues heads off to seek answers and try to inspire more faith in the beaten villages along the coast.
There’s an underlying theme that’s present in Silence, and it’s a mix of a few different facets of what makes religion still carry into modern day. The first is that the film advocates for a ‘silence’ of beliefs by making them very personal to the individual and their immediate surroundings. One of the reasons that Father Rodrigues (again, Garfield, if you forget) has such success in this film and why the person he’s based on is a famous figure is because of his ability to know when to broadcast/inspire, and when to remain in the dark. He’s an inspiring figure that moves beyond any one-note pro-religion character that we’ve seen in films like this. The other theme involves that of martyrism vs. egotism, and whether part of being a martyr is the prospect of feeding into one’s ego and self-worth. One of the ways that the Japanese punish the priests is making them watch other Christians suffer because the priests refuse to renounce their faith. At what point does it become a net wrong?
The film was wrongfully only nominated for one Oscar (cinematography), but I would strongly advocate for it to have more attention. I know that most people cannot see the movie now, as it’s left theaters, but don’t let the 2hr-40min runtime throw you off; it’s every bit worth the time spent watching it. I was just so enthralled by the performances, but also how deep the film gets into our characters feelings and how that affects the world around them. Garfield is as good as he’s ever been here, and that includes the excellent turn in Hacksaw Ridge. Please bite the bullet and see this film, it’s really special.
Director: Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, Hugo, The Aviator, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street, Cape Fear)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, and Liam Neeson
with: Tadanobu Asano and Ciaran Hinds
RT Score: 84%
20th Century Women is among the most conflicting movies of the year; it’s a movie I respect mightily, but also a movie that I’m not sure I totally ‘got’ when I watched it a few weeks ago. I actually had to sit on it for a few days before I could decide where to include it on my year-end list, because it’s very, very ‘indie.’ Maybe the fact that Annete Bening and Greta Gerwig were two of the stars should’ve set me off, but I went into 20th Century Women expecting a pretty normal dramedy and instead got a lot more than that, some in a good way, some in a bad way.
The strongest thing about the film is its eccentricity, bolstered by some great performances that span a few different generations. The always reliable Annete Bening plays Dorothea, a single woman who needs help raising her teen son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Jamie doesn’t have a father figure, so she seeks the help of two people close to him, the fellow eccentric tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s best (but older) friend Julie (Elle Fanning) to help show him the way to traversing teenhood. Although all different ages, they all constitute ’20th Century Women’ and work among each other to ensure his success. Also in the picture is another building tenant William (Billy Crudup) with whom Dorothea considers a relationship.
My biggest drawback with the film is actually more about the set-up and execution of the premise more than anything. When Jamie begins experiencing difficulties or feeling slightly feminine, it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the closest people in his life. Further, the whole concept of the run-down house that they live in with random people in each room feels more like a sit-com than real life, and there wasn’t really a moment in this film that I actually bought as watching real-life.
That being said, this underlying discomfort doesn’t take away from the great performances, especially Bening and Fanning, who have both re-emerged (or for Fanning just ’emerged’) onto the scene in recent years. The movie is definitely feminist, and shows the turning point for women beginning to take control of their own lives in the late 1900s, as opposed to a more patriarchal culture beforehand. Nothing about the production is particularly noteworthy, but the screenplay, written and directed by Mike Mills, is special, relying on very unique films and a sense of black comedy that is rarely replicated. There will be people who LOVE this movie, and there will be some who see my B to B+ review and could not possibly understand why I would give it that much slack. Either way, here’s my score:
20th Century Women (2016)
Director: Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker)
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann, and Billy Crudup
RT Score: 89%