Film reviews: Silence | A Monster Calls | Assassin’s Creed | Monster Trucks

Liam Neeson in Silence
Liam Neeson in Silence
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Martin Scorsese’s religious epic Silence isn’t an easy watch, but you certainly can’t accuse him of playing it safe

Silence (15) ***

A Monster Calls (12A) ****

Assassin’s Creed (15) **

Monster Trucks (PG) *

Martin Scorsese’s latest may well test the faith of his acolytes. The religious epic – about a pair of missionary priests who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor – is a sincere, austere, intellectually rigorous attempt to grapple with God’s silence in the face of human suffering. Yet Silence is not without its flaws, not least the casting of Andrew Garfield in the lead. As fine an actor as he is, he’s not especially convincing as a 17th century Portuguese priest and pales next to co-star Adam Driver. But while a braver film might have switched this pair around, one can hardly accuse a film that explores Japan’s violent attempt to reject Catholicism’s missionary zeal of playing it safe. The extent to which the country is determined to prevent what is tantamount to religious colonolism is evident from a brutal prologue in which Christians are shown being tortured by their Japanese captors and given the choice to apostatise or die. In the face of such bloodshed, Liam Neeson’s Father Ferreira’s faith wavers and when word of his subsequent renunciation reaches Lisbon, fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) – ignoring the advice of an elder priest – travel to Japan to save him. What follows is an inquiry into whether faith in the divine is fuelled by arrogance or ignorance, a theme played out in Rodrigues’s determination to covertly spread the gospel, clinging to his love of God even as he comes to understand that his very presence is doing more harm than good. Indeed, the integrity of his mission is repeatedly mocked by his guide, Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka), a drunken reprobate who rejects Jesus time and again to save his own life, then begs forgiveness from Rodrigues by confessing his sins. All of which is interesting up to a point, but over the course of three hours it becomes rather monotonous, particularly as Scorsese undercuts his own meticulously composed images with reams of deadening voice-over describing exactly what’s happening on screen. The final shot might also strike more secular viewers as a bit of a cop-out.

Silence star Liam Neeson pops up again in A Monster Calls, this time in motion-captured form as monstrous-seeming yew tree which haunts the dreams of an artistically inclined 12-year-old boy (played by Lewis MacDougall – see interview opposite). Adapted from Patrick Ness’s fantasy novel of the same name, the film has a beautiful, haunting quality reminiscent of its Spanish director JA Bayona’s earlier film, The Orphanage. It features great turns too from Felicity Jones as the boy’s terminally ill mother and Sigourney Weaver as his frosty grandmother. The result is a heart-breaking family film told with plenty of emotion, imagination and a lot of artistic integrity.

One could argue that there’s some artistic integrity in Asssassin’s Creed too, but only in the sense that Macbeth director Justin Kurzel has transposed the best-selling video game to the big screen in a way that will likely confound anyone not already au fait with the source material. It’s built around a dense mythology involving a centuries-spanning conflict between a shadowy government organisation run by the Knights Templar, who seek to run the world through collective mind control, and a secret cabal of warrior assassins who are determined to stop them. What the film really offers, though, is a sort of medieval spin on The Matrix in which Michael Fassbender’s criminal, Cal Lynch, is given a knew lease of life by a beautiful scientist (Marion Cotillard) who is attempting to study genetic predisposition towards violence by strapping criminals into a machine that allows them to regress into their ancestor’s bodies and experience the world as they saw it. Or something. Fassbender’s antihero isn’t really interesting enough to make you care one way or the other and though Kurzel’s visuals are impressive, the whole thing feels like one of Ridley Scott’s more disposable epics.

Still, better that than Monster Trucks, an ill-conceived (and by most reports extremely expensive) attempt to launch a Transformers-style franchise about pick-up trucks that are literally powered by monsters. There’s a reason this has sat on a shelf for two years. ■