Movie Reviews: Live By Night and Silence

Live By Night

Cary, NC – Live By Night, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is a gangster drama set against the backdrop of prohibition. While there are moments of greatness here, Affleck seems to struggle with his focus on what exactly the story is, delivering a watchable, albeit muddled, viewing experience.

Great Cast Can’t Save Uneven Film

This is the fourth time in the director’s chair for Affleck and it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing behind the camera. I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous efforts, and with Live By Night, there are numerous scenes that prove what a talent he is. The film itself looks gorgeous and a shootout near the end of the film is laid out clearly and gives the film a much needed pulse.

Affleck even got a cast most would dream of, with Elle Fanning (Super 8), Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York), Chris Messina (Argo), Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy), as well as at least half a dozen other great character actors that all do great work.

Affleck Loses Focus

But it’s the story itself that really bogs the film down. Live By Night kind of meanders around its central story, taking about 40 minutes to really focus on anything and once it does, it starts to jump around so quickly that you never really get a chance to get invested in any of the numerous characters coming in and out of the movie.

I also believe Affleck to be a much better actor than he is usually given credit for, but even here, despite a few moments of charisma, he comes across as wooden and even a little bored. It’s a real bummer of a misstep for the filmmaker.

Can’t Recommend

While there are moments in Live By Night that are interesting and scenes that are well shot and gorgeous, the overall film proves to be a miss fire so I can’t really recommend a trip to the theater for this one. However, Affleck has been through worse and I’m still excited to see what he chooses to direct next.


Silence

Cary, NC – Silence is the latest film by Martin Scorsese, a giant of the art form, and is a harrowing story of the persecution of Christians in feudal Japan that asks large questions about faith and religion.

Difficult Watch

Director Martin Scorsese is well-known as not only one of the best living filmmakers but one of the all-time greats. And while many of his movies have a certain grit to them, many people can watch Goodfellas or The Departed and be entertained, not to mention his dark comedies such as After Hours, The Wolf of Wall Street and The King of Comedy.

Silence does not fit those same categories. It is a long, slow film that sees its characters either living in squalor conditions or facing torture. Scorsese is not gratuitous with the violence, and in fact, the physical torture is even more disturbing in how simplistic it is. But what is worse is the psychological torture placed on our main character, Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man).

This torture arises from the burden placed on him as a Catholic Jesuit to renounce his faith and end the suffering of Japanese believers, as well as the discussions of religion he has with Japanese authorities and the fallen Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson (Taken series, Schindler’s List).

It is through these discussions and, no spoilers, the decisions Rodrigues makes that Silence makes its most difficult points. Based on a book by Japanese author Shusaku Endo about his own questions about being a Japanese Catholic, the film asks what burdens religions men and women should be asked to make and how God or Jesus is meant to respond. The answers are not made clear and this makes Silence a movie that will appear different to viewers depending on their own religious background, which is a sign of quality art.

Committed Cast

To pull off such a difficult film, a high-calibre cast is needed. As the lead, Garfield stands out quite clearly and he goes through the most changes, from a somewhat naïve and dedicated young Jesuit to a man in hiding to a man going through extreme mental anguish, to name a few personas. And while his fellow Jesuit characters with Neeson and Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) do a good job, they are not seen as much as Garfield so it is harder to judge their performances.

But with a sprawling Japanese cast, there are many names and faces that, while unfamiliar to many American audiences, pull off a terrific performance. Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, Tokyo Fist) stands out the most as an uncommonly religious and faithful Japanese peasant Mokichi, who inspires Rodrigues to push forward. Also standing out is Yosuke Kubozuka (Go, Ichi) as Kijichiro, a distrustful Japanese man who makes Rodrigues question not only his own beliefs but whether his mission in Japan was worth it.

Worth Seeing

If you are willing to watch a challenging film that asks some possibly uncomfortable questions, Silence will likely go down as a powerful work of art and self-examination by a religious director. It may be too dense for even Oscars season but it is a well made and well thought out movie.


Jordan Hunt reviews movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews. Photos from Facebook (Live By Night/Silence).