'The Sound of Silence' film review: Quirky indie squanders its off-beat premise
The indie drama "The Sound of Silence" (playing in select cities Sept. 20) presumes a quirky premise justifies a full-length story, however, even its intriguing and novel notions make this relatively short film feel long and tedious.
In short: "House tuner" Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard) calibrates the sound in people's homes in order to adjust their moods when meets Ellen Chasen (Rashida Jones), a client with a problem he can't solve.
Professorial Lucian is a sort of Sherlock Holmes of aural mysteries. Lucian himself is quite scholarly in his approach to what amounts to urban sound design, however, aside from his unorthodox area of expertise Lucian is not a very engaging character. He mostly silently, patiently takes in all the sounds around him. It's only when he starts to talk about his research when he shows any sign of passion or energy.
The fundamental idea that the cacophony of sounds inundating New Yorkers could adversely affect people's emotions is the hook that makes "Sound of Silence" a curiosity of indie film. It's an off-kilter theory that Lucian treats as a universal law of nature. This intriguing concept might make a good NPR feature or article in The Atlantic, however, it's just not enough to sustain a full-length feature.
For nearly the first half of the film, "Silence" just shuffles slowly as it patiently between Lucian's parallel story threads: cracking the case of Ellen Chasen's malaise and prepping his meticulous research for publication. The problem is that neither plot thread is compelling. This glacial pacing is not itself an insurmountable problem - however, the result is "Silence" fails to adequately establish what's at stake or where the story is going. So by the third act's pivotal turn, Lucian's transformation doesn't make the impact it should.
The final insult is "Silence" flirts with discussing and pondering Lucian's theories - but the challenge to his possible pseudoscience is brief and shallow. And ultimately neither storyline - Chasen's malaise nor Lucian's dream of published research - is resolved in any satisfying or meaningful manner. Both are lazily wrapped up with just a few lines of dialogue.
Final verdict: The potential of "Silence" is muddled with a myriad of tangled plot threads, many of which aren't fully developed. Watching a muted, reserved Sarsgaard slowly unravel, however, is always entertaining.
"The Sound of Silence" screened during the 45th Seattle International Film Festival and opens in Seattle-area theaters starting Sept. 20. This drama is unrated and has a running time of 85 minutes.