Silence is the latest film by Martin Scorsese starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, adapted to the screen from the book of the same name written by Shûsaku Endô. It depicts two Jesuit priests (Garfield and Driver), who are sent on a mission to Japan, to uncover the fate of their mentor Father Ferrera (Neeson), and propagate catholicism into the country in the process. However, the moment they set foot on the land, their faith is tested by the governing bodies of Nagasaki, who tempt them to denounce their devotion to Christianity through both physical and psychological torture methods.
Scorsese is a director I’ve never been too keen on, but I enjoy all of his movies. I’ve never felt an aggressive, unquenched desire to re-watch a single one, but films like Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street still succeed immensely in being both entertaining and engaging. However, not only is Silence likely my favourite Scorsese film to date, but it is also one which I will likely come back to at some point with a fresh perspective.
It needn’t be said that this film is stunning to look at. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has worked on many acclaimed, including Scorsese’s very own Wolf Of Wall Street, and his talent with the camera shines through here. Dialogue scenes are fairly basic-looking, but the wide landscapes and inner cities of Japan are given a gorgeous frame. This works in sync with the costume and set design to create a very real, believable Japan like none other. The camera makes fantastic work of more enclosed, claustrophobic environments, whilst also lending to the aimlessness of the characters while they are on the move in the wide open rural spaces.
Andrew Garfield is in his fair share of bad movies, so for a long time many assumed The Social Network was a massive fluke. However, with this and Hacksaw Ridge under his belt, he has cemented himself as a great talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was nominated for an Academy Award for either performance. Not to overlook Adam Driver of course, who gives a good performance too. One notable aspect of both of these characters is how different they are. Driver is much more rash and impatient with the Japanese people, whilst Garfield is calmer and more determined to speak the word of God. Neeson is used sparingly, and I couldn’t help but notice his accent was more wise-British-mentor-sounding, rather than the European accents of Garfield and Driver, despite all of their Portuguese backgrounds. Perhaps his accent had faded during his time in Japan, but somehow I doubt that. Despite this, he manages to give his best possible effort with the few lines he is given. However, the real winner here is the fantastic script by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, which adds a lot to the characters in a few subtle ways, even if some of those “subtleties” are perhaps too on-the-nose at times.
The story, for the most part, complements the film’s runtime effectively. It was always very difficult to determine how each event would play out, which keeps the audience on their toes at all times. Furthermore, much like the main protagonists, the viewer is constantly questioning their own faith, in this case in the characters’ judgement and motivations. There is never a boring moment. One criticism could be that the final 10-15 minutes of the movie felt a little flabby and prolonged. I kept waiting for the movie to end, not because I was not enjoying it, but because it felt like much of the ending could have been cut down to be more concise. However, once the film did finally end, I couldn’t help but feel an immense sense of satisfaction and a need to watch this again once it releases on Blu-Ray. All good things.
One thing to bear in mind before seeing this film: it is certainly unconventional storytelling. It takes its time to build its world, its setting and its characters, before thrusting the audience into a claustrophobic, oftentimes uncomfortable, environment. There are many tough scenes to endure in this movie and I applaud the creators for not ever holding back to a distracting extent. I cannot think off the top of my head of any other movie to tackle this difficult subject matter, so I’m glad its potential was not wasted, unlike other films (cough cough, The Hobbit, cough cough). There are obviously smaller issues one could encounter. Some of the editing was done poorly, as characters would often jump from standing to sitting or vice-versa without any indication of movement, which decreases the believability of a scene, especially when it is supposed to be taken seriously. Moreover, the passage of time could sometimes be a little jarring, although this is slightly made up for with the clever addition of the characters’ ever-growing hair to reference the longitude of their stay in Japan.
Silence is absolutely a film I would recommend if you’re seeking an intelligent look at religion and the testing of one’s faith, but don’t expect anything like the oftentimes wacky antics and endless energy of some of Scorsese’s previous work. This is, by every definition of the phrase, a passion project – one which Scorsese himself has said he has wanted to do for decades, but has never felt capable as a director to tackle it until now. A lot of talent, love, care and attention was poured into this production, and it certainly shows.