Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)
Written by: Jay Cocks (“Gangs of New York”) and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)
As a film almost 30 years in the making, from one of the most prolific, respected and decorated filmmakers of his time, it’s almost impossible for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” to not have impossibly high expectations. Sprawling, beautifully bleak and yet quietly presented, the first trailers indicated that this wasn’t your average Scorsese. As we move into the final wave of awards season films, all eyes are on Scorsese to see what exactly he has been sitting on for decades.
After the disappearance of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a pair of Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Gariupe (Adam Driver), head to the dangerous land of Japan to track him down and to spread the word of Catholicism. As the two priests enter Japan, they see that being a Christian in Japan is a death sentence and they fight to keep the faith alive while trying find their mentor and keeping and their whereabouts a secret.
As an actor on the cusp for a while, “Silence” sees a fully realized Garfield. It’s a physical performance with a bit of weight loss, but also a sorrowful, charismatic, heartfelt and at times, humorous performance. It’s his film to carry with Neeson and Driver taking a bit of a backseat and he handles it well. Much of the rest of the cast is Japanese and very solid across the board. A lot is being made of the performance of Issey Ogata who plays the Inquisitor, and it’s valid. It’s almost strange as the performance seems hammy and cartooney yet completely works due to its commitment and darkly funny personality.
With a film this steeped in the story of priests and Catholicism, it is almost impossible to not say that what the audience takes from this film will largely depend on their own personal beliefs. At a minimum, however, the themes that can be extrapolated come down to “how far would one go to defend what they believe in?” As we watch our protagonists given time and time again to pull themselves, and those who follow them out of a situation at the expensive of selling out their believes, we see their struggle and their faiths tested. Scorsese deserves credit for not delving too far into forcing his beliefs on his audience, but the undertones are unmistakable. Is it meditative? Of course. Is it extremely religious in its themes? Absolutely.
“Silence” feels almost aggressively long, which isn’t helped by its slow pace. While much of the movie is compelling and ripe with strong performances, there are several false endings and a few check your watch moments. As a comprehensive piece, “Silence” probably falls around the middle or mid-to-lower range in Scorsese’s filmography. That isn’t to say it is a bad film on any level. It’s harrowing and challenging. It’s well performed and well written. There’s fantastic sound design and beautiful cinematography. But in the end, it remains a tough nut to crack and a little difficult to connect with on a level beyond its religiosity.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Directed by: Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves
With the first three Spider-Man movies raking in almost $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office from 2002 to 2007, there was no way Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures were going to allow the franchise to fade away just because their lead actor and director didn’t want to return for a fourth go-’round. Instead, Marvel hit the reset button like they did with Ang Lee’s underappreciated “Hulk” and like DC Comics did for their inspired rebirth of Batman via the ingenious mind of director Christopher Nolan. What we’re left with is “The Amazing Spider-Man,” an unnecessary and extremely average reboot of the series that offers slight tweaks to the overall story but never commands the mythology as its own.
In the newest adaptation, Toby Maguire (“Spider-Man 1-3”) is replaced by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), a capable young actor cast well in the title role. He gives Spidey a bit more emotional depth based on a screenplay focused more on the mysterious disappearance and death of Peter Parker’s parents than the original 2002 film. Secret files and research related to cross-species genetics left behind by his father prompts Peter to investigate his work with fellow scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Coincidentally, Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns for Dr. Connors while her cop father (Denis Leary) and the NYPD want to bring the webslinger to justice.
At its core, the story is a rehash of what we already know about Peter and his transformation into the masked vigilante: laboratories, a spider bite, teen romance, masterful sewing skills, revenge on a schoolyard bully, schizoid CGI villain. To have to re-watch everything play out again doesn’t benefit anyone, especially if the purpose of a reboot to this franchise was to give audiences something fresh and exciting.
Marc Webb’s modern take on the rom-com with “500 Days of Summer” in 2009 was a much-needed change from the usual Kate Hudson schlock the genre delivers, so it was logical to think his take on the superhero movie could provide a similar resurgence. Unfortunately, Webb doesn’t stray from the original tone and does little to build on the familiar themes that make Spider-Man such an interesting character. Raimi’s versions were far from perfect themselves, but Webb’s own voice is quickly engulfed by the big-budget comic-book universe that came before him.
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield
Directed by: Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”)
Written by: Alex Garland (“Sunshine”)
With such an original concept, it’s unfortunate when “Never Let Me Go” simply trails off without much emotional impact. The artful cinematography is remarkable by Adam Kimmel (“Capote,” “Lars and the Real Girl”), but the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name leaves a lot to be desired in the dreary dystopian world it has created.
Part coming-of-age British drama, part science fiction love story, “Never Let Me Go” is a melancholic narrative that follows three life-long friends – Ruth (Keira Knightley), Kathy (Carey Mulligan), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) – as they grow up together in Hailsham, an boarding school where special rules to ensure their health and safety are enforced so their sole purpose in life can be fulfilled.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the film explains that scientific breakthroughs have increased human life expectancy to over the age of 100. Children raised at Hailsham are one of the reasons people are able to live longer than ever.
During their stay at the boarding school, Ruth and Tommy begin an innocent relationship. Kathy watches them casually as she conceals her own feeling for Tommy, which last throughout their childhood and into their teenage years. After graduating from Hailsham, the trio is sent off to live in an area known as the Cottages where they are given a bit more freedom than before, but are still well aware of thier ill-fated future.
Directed by music video veteran Mark Romanek, who’s only other film credit is 2002’s creepy drama “One Hour Photo,” “Never Let Me Go” is a delicate and surreal story that doesn’t provide enough answers in a script that seems to ignore its most obvious flaws.
As the melodrama rises, it becomes more evident that screenwriter Alex Garland (“Sunshine”) has backed himself into a corner. No matter how faithful he stays to Ishiguro’s source material, the film’s lack of balance between genres is irresolvable. It’s undoubtedly one of the more profound movie premises of the year, but never gets paid the attention to detail it deserves aside from its technical accomplishments.
Starring: Jesse Einsberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
Written by: Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War”)
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Einsberg) is the smartest guy in the room. If you weren’t aware, don’t worry. He would’ve let you known sooner or later.
So is the personality of the genius Facebook founder as it is portrayed in director David Fincher’s internet epic “The Social Network,” an incisively-written and impressively-controlled biopic where fascinating legal drama meets new media ambition. Adapted by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) from the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, “The Social Network” is an occasionally one-sided yet nearly-perfect narrative centered on the most prevalent online phenomenon of the past decade.
With a story this substantial, there was bound to be a villain – or at least an anti-hero – somewhere in the mix. “The Social Network” doesn’t waste time in introducing audiences to Mark. Einsberg plays him as arrogant and aloof as any character in recent memory. It doesn’t necessarily push the actor’s range compared to some of his past films, but from this bigger-than-life persona Einsberg exudes a scary confidence and insensitivity that draws us as close to him as it pushes others away.
From the opening scene, Mark has our attention as he sits across from his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) in a Harvard pub and manages to say just about every wrong thing imaginable. The difference between Mark and a guy that simply puts his foot in his mouth (as all guys do) is that Mark is well aware of his offensive nature but wants to see where the breaking point lies.
“This is exhausting,” Erica tells Mark as he rambles on about how getting into a Finals Club (a sort of glorified fraternity at Harvard) will lead to a better life. “Dating you is like dating Stairmaster.”
Mark’s ability to destroy friendships is what layers his character so well. His defense mechanisms are what keep him from truly finding a connection with friends. In “The Social Network,” Mark is able to demonstrate how he uses his intelligence to prove his worth. He starts by ransacking the campus blogosphere before proceeding to steal what would later become Facebook, a multi-billion-dollar media corporation.
Standing beside Mark to help build his empire is best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who provided the start-up cash to fund Facebook in its early stages and attempted to monetize the website. In the film, Eduardo, who is the main source for “The Accidental Billionaires,” is suing Mark for $600 million. Garfield’s depiction of a loyal friend is heartfelt until it becomes heartbreaking. As Napster founder Sean Parker, singer/actor Justin Timberlake plays to his strengths and embodies Parker as a smart and wily entrepreneur looking for the next big money-making idea.
“The Social Network” isn’t so much a movie about Facebook as it’s a story of greed, envy, and the ruthless means one young man would take to rise to power no matter who he crushes along the way. It’s “There Will Be Blood” for the tech generation.
Through wonderfully-constructed scenes, director Fincher and screenwriter Sorkin have created an exhilarating drama that achieves the finest that filmmaking has to offer today. “The Social Network” is a relentless character study and just might be the best film of the year.