Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Ciarán Hinds
Icon Martin Scorsese’s latest film Silence is a 20-year passion project. It feels more like something he needed to do for himself (and maybe producer Irwin Winkler who calls it his best film), rather than something made for a universal audience. The 74-year-old director has made his mark in the history of cinema, and for that reason when a “Scorsese Film” debuts, it will get attention. However, there is a reason the studio didn’t push this late awards entry, it doesn’t have widespread appeal, despite its themes of religion, sacrifice and faith. The irony is Golden Globe nominee Garfield, has two films in the awards race where he plays a Christian facing adversity from the Japanese. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge delivers a more rousing, attainable, and emotional film where Silence in contrast, tests viewer’s patience while burying them in nuance.
In 1640, an army of two Catholic priests, arrive on the rocky shores of Japan to spread the word of God to the Buddhist nation. Before Father Rodriquez (Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Driver) snuck into the country, numerous priests have been tortured and killed by the Japanese Inquisitor. The Portuguese Priests bring hope to the small groups of coastal Christians living moment to moment in fear and seclusion. Yet the true purpose of the trip is to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Neeson), gone missing amid rumor that he has abandon his faith. Rodriquez will face the ultimate test as the Japanese try to break him mentally and physically to deny Christ in front of the Christian followers.
Silence suffers with his inability to truly grab the attention of the viewer in a way similar movies of religious suffering have.
As stunning as Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography, capturing impeeding fog across a gloomy Taiwan landscape, dubbing for Seventieth Century Japan.; The beauty of the film can’t overcome its lack of effectiveness. With an original 4 hour cut of the film, longtime editing collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker at least ensures the film isn’t boring, for most of the running time anyway. Scorsese’s Silence suffers with his inability to truly grab the attention of the viewer in a way similar movies of religious suffering have. Yes, the situation presented here is a difficult one with two countries essentially at war over faith. I can’t help compare Silence with Hacksaw Ridge since both are in the awards race and have the same lead actor, yet entirely presented in a different manner. As far as Garfield’s performances, both are strong, elevating the actor above previous work, but his Desmond Doss role is more effective.
There are real moments of suspense and threat of dangers where the two priests must stay hidden in the early parts of the film. The interaction between Garfield and Driver are some of the best moments of the film, it’s when Father Rodriquez is on his own that the film settles into a comfortable lull. The one moment that struck me and lingered above all else is when Rodriguez, in all his persistence and determination, meets a group of Christian prisoners who have calm faces before their execution. They want to die, because anything, especially Paradise, would be better than the life they know. It’s a moment that shakes our determined Jesuit to his core. Like most of his films, Scorsese prolongs this story, testing the stamina of the audience. The message is bleak, often confusing to the viewer what to take away from the story and how to feel.
Scorsese makes it very difficult for the viewer to get emotionally invested in the story despite bringing his usual brilliant trade craft to the screen.