Review - 'Silence'
There are very few films this year that come close to being as immersive, contemplative and heart-wrenching as Silence. Martin Scorsese has delivered to audiences once again with a thoughtful and often times brutal examination of religion and devotion.
Silence centers around two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) that journey to Japan to seek out Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their priest and mentor who has not been heard from in some time. When they arrive, their faith is put to the ultimate test.
I suppose the big question surrounding Silence is its depictions of various religions. This is a tricky balancing act to pull off and it's nearly impossible to make everyone happy. While I can understand why some might be offended by the film's leanings, I found Scorsese's approach to be satisfying. This is a film about the strength of faith, and it just happens to focus on a Christian. Though the film is about priests and their mission to provide services to a foreign people, I didn't actually find the narrative to be preachy at all. In fact I found that many different messages could be gleaned throughout the film. This is a story of a man in a foreign world and his immense struggle against a people who are equally as passionate about something else, and yes, while some of the Japanese that represent the Buddhist faith lash out violently, I didn't get the sense that the filmmakers were making an over-arching statement about their religion.
In this conflict of theology, Silence doesn't hold back in its displays of brutality. Nevertheless, I would still consider this a much more restrained effort from Scorsese. There's really only one moment in this film that comes off as graphically violent. There's a fair amount of torture on and off-screen, but it's not nearly as gratuitous as you might imagine. The atrocities committed in Silence are to-the-point, which oddly made them more disturbing because of how realistic they appeared. I appreciated the film for not feeling the need to stylize the violence; it just happens and when it does there's always a meaning behind it.
In addition to being potentially controversial, Silence is also a lengthy film which could easily derail and devolve into a slog if the material isn't compelling. Despite being a concerning two-hours-and-forty-one-minutes long, Silence never once relinquished its grasp on my attention. From the opening frame to the final moments, this film is masterfully shot and deliberately paced. I got the sense that the picture wasn't concerned with having any sort of steady momentum, instead opting to portray each and every event organically and at whatever pace seemed natural. Some may complain about the film's length and the fact that there are slower moments, but to me it only assured that not a single moment ever felt forced.
Another one of Silence's chief strengths is Andrew Garfield's performance and the revolving door of excellent actors he comes into contact with. Speaking of which, this really is Garfield's year. He was great in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge and he's even better here as the Jesuit priest Sebastiao Rodrigues. My only minor quibble with the newly-minted leading man is his accent, which isn't always convincing and wavers quite a bit. Still, Andrew Garfield's conviction and pure, raw emotion is palpable and I was completely engrossed in his performance. If this man doesn't get at least an Oscar nomination for best actor this year I'll be surprised.
The rest of the cast is also no slouch, particularly Adam Driver who plays Francisco Garupe, a priest who faces similar challenges to Rodrigues. Tobanobu Asanu also has a memorable part as the interpreter for Rodrigues. Asanu balances humorous wit with seriousness perfectly and posits some of the film's more interesting questions. I also enjoyed Yosuke Kubozuka who plays the conflicted and cowardly Kichijiro. Finally we have Liam Neeson, who really isn't in this film much at all. That said, he does add a dramatic heft to the proceedings when he's on the screen, even though he doesn't even come close to attempting any sort of accent.
On top of everything, Silence is also absolutely stunning to look at. The photography on display is breathtaking with sweeping landscape shots and a constant attention to detail and color. I'm also reasonably positive that most of this film is naturally lit, which I've found lets the beauty of the world speak more for itself. Scorsese's reconstruction of Japan in the late 1600's is not only beautiful but it also feels so lived-in and authentic that I never once questioned what I was seeing wasn't real.
The film doesn't have much of a musical score, which not so surprisingly ends up being integral to the film's message in more ways than one. I noticed that without the musical cues it was much harder to predict what was coming. I love a good score and I think nearly all films benefit for having one, but the exclusion of a score from Silence only added to the message Scorsese was trying to convey.
In the end, Silence deftly handles the ways religion differs from culture to culture and the resulting discord that is produced when one meets the other. I found Martin Scorsese's latest to be yet another masterpiece to add to his legendary repertoire and it should not be missed.