Silence is vintage Martin Scorsese. The master’s techniques are evident in practically every frame, and his return to a religious subject matter is both fascinating and complex. Nearly three decades ago, The Last Temptation of Christ showed that Scorsese was capable of delivering a nuanced treatise on spirituality, and he has done the same with Silence. These topics are seldom tackled by Scorsese, so we should count ourselves lucky when the director is inspired by a story such as Silence, which has been in pre-production in some form for the last 25 years or so.
Shakespeare’s story of the Scottish king Macbeth is over 400 years old, and the story it is based upon dates back a further six centuries. Thus, it is important for storytellers to bring something new to the familiar tale of corruption, power, and guilt. Fortunately, Justin Kurzel’s version starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the titular characters is up to the task of providing a fresh take. Three major departures from the bard’s text are crucial for informing this discussion: the presence of the Baby Macbeth, the characterization of the Witches and the mystical forces in general, and a re-interpretation of the famous conclusion. With these tweaks in mind, we will see how Kurzel offers a much darker and more cynical view of Macbeth than most film-makers.
The Revenant is a gorgeous slog. From the opening panorama to the final close-up, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s frontier survivalist epic confronts the viewer with this discord. This tension colors the film completely, elbowing out more nuanced analyses of character arcs or thematic material upon first glance. But to claim, as some critics have, that The Revenant is a pretty film devoid of meaning is an absurdity. The harrowing cinematic experience certainly offers visual splendor up front and is heavily fettered in a masochistic cloak, but underneath it all, the insights into the human condition are many and varied. Besides marveling at the strength of the human spirit or the futility of revenge, themes of spiritual rebirth, everlasting love, betrayal, racism, and even the importance of friendship and connection with another human being in this vast, cold world.
Show of hands: who understands what happened to cause the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the subsequent global recession? Okay, now all the liars that have their hands up – do you think you could explain it to a standard movie audience, while still telling an engaging, cinematic story? Well, Adam McKay, famous for creating the Funny or Die website and directing comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, has succeeded in this endeavor. McKay’s ridiculous stylistic choices help portray the absurdity of the entire financial system, and instill a sense of incredulity in the audience. As a result, he has crafted a wonderful and funny film with full character arcs, rousing thematic statements, and eye-opening revelations about the world we live in.
A slick, stylized violence permeates Tony Scott’s Man on Fire, which is as much a story about rebirth as it is about revenge. The critics balked at the vigilantism of Denzel Washington’s John Creasy as he tears through a Mexican kidnapping cartel responsible for the death of a young girl, but this film is much more about a man’s abortive redemption than pleasure-seeking violence. Far from glorifying Creasy’s rampage, Scott imbues the narrative with a decidedly blunt and tragic trajectory. Man on Fire is less about retribution, and more about a damaged man falling apart one last time in service of his highest value.
It is remiss to classify The Martian as “Ridley Scott’s” or “Matt Damon’s” or with any other possessive; it is a true ensemble film. Though the story begins in serious medias res with the crew of the Ares III mission escaping a Martian dust storm and leaving Matt Damon’s Mark Watney behind on the red planet, this is not Cast Away where we dwell on our lone character for the majority of the runtime. The success of the narrative and the impact of the theme require that seemingly infinite characters aid in Watney’s survival, but also that Watney himself is capable of titanic intellectual feats. What results is a film dictating that the strength of humanity is found in the reasoning mind – from an isolated individual struggling to survive to large teams working towards effecting a rescue.