Like a Penguin book or a Penguin chocolate bar, it seems all we need is a brand nowadays. This anxiety, that we must invest only in what we know, is wheedling its way ever-deeper into the arts, the old proven franchises (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel, etc.) returning again and again, like a cold you just can’t shake. It’s hardly news then, when I hear there’s a new Scorsese film that I simply MUST SEE, I forget the name of the new Scorsese film, I forget the plot of the new Scorsese film, but I know I simply MUST SEE the brand-spanking-new-old-brand-new Scorsese film. So I went to see the new Scorsese film, which turned out to be called Silence.
I must confess, I put my fate in the hands of the reviewers. The first few days of the film’s release were dominated by veneration for Scorsese, the whole project basking in unanimous critical adulation, and hints of Oscars in the air. Reassured by this praise, we bought our tickets and hurried to our seats in anticipation. What we were then subjected to were three hilariously dull hours of disappointment aboard Scorsese’s ridiculous ego-trip turd of a film. Why were we lied to? Why was so much glitter thrown over the turd? Perhaps, in this post-truth world we live in, it’s because reviewers aren’t reviewing films anymore, just as we aren’t really watching them.
‘What we were then subjected to were three hilariously dull hours of disappointment aboard Scorsese’s ridiculous ego-trip turd of a film’
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Silence tells the story of Spanish Catholic priests sent as missionaries to Japan to convert the locals from oh-so-wrong Buddhism to oh-so-right Catholicism. But the Japanese authorities see this as a pretence for Western control, and so the priests find themselves hunted down, tortured, and executed. This provided a promising foundation for the film, a scarcely-touched story with the potential to raise important and relevant philosophical questions. But perhaps it wasn’t Scorsese’s story to tell. A story set between cultures and faiths requires a selfless mediator, and it’s clear that Scorsese wasn’t the man for the job. Under Scorsese’s lens, Buddhism becomes lies, Catholicism becomes truth, and Japan becomes the barbaric, untameable orient.
‘A story set between cultures and faiths requires a selfless mediator, and it’s clear that Scorsese wasn’t the man for the job’
The casting was equally questionable. A sensitive casting director might’ve at least chosen Spanish people to play the Spanish people. Instead, the Spanish priests are represented by two American actors (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) and two Irish actors (Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds), and it turns out that American plus Irish does not equal Spanish. As you can imagine, the Spanish accents were laughable, the older actors didn’t even bother, but boyish Andrew Garfield tried his best to emulate Antonio Banderas as he bobbed his head about like a disgruntled chicken vomiting paella.
These actors were chosen not because they suited their respective roles, but because of the brand name they carry. And indeed, they are all very well-known, talented actors. But this proved to be a double-edged sword, as it was hard to un-see Andrew Garfield as Spider-man, even harder to un-see Adam Driver as Kylo-Ren, and impossible to un-see Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn (especially with those flowing locks). What we were presented with, then, was Spider-man pootling about Japan with two Jedis, which I don’t think was what Scorsese had in mind.
‘These actors were chosen not because they suited their respective roles, but because of the brand name they carry’
Perhaps this film might’ve been passable, even good; the story was interesting and relevant, the actors were talented, the setting was beautiful, but the final nail in Silence’s coffin came after the two-hour mark. And it came in the form of another hour. This was a three-hour film. Three hours that stretched a two-hour plot into transparency, with no soundtrack, no action, no character development, and, by the two-and-a-half-hour mark, no audience. This film became a laughable ordeal, as audience members swapped glances and groans, each begging for the final release of the credits. A bloke at the front was the first to crack, leaving after an hour, then the row in front of us followed suit. By the time the credits rolled, those five-star reviews seemed almost self-congratulatory. Like a marathon runner praising a marathon, or perhaps they’re just in denial. ‘No’, the critics insist, ‘we didn’t just waste three hours of our lives, this film is a masterpiece’.
(Image courtesy of Kerry Brown)