Review: Silence

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By Andrew Clarke (@AwaitingAndrew)
 
Silence, a passion project of Martin Scorsese that is over 25 years in the making, was finally released last month. This film stars Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in search of their mentor Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson, in a time when Christianity was outlawed and met with persecution by anyone found to be practicing it.
 
The film opens after the title with voiceover from Neeson himself, as Scorsese and director of photography Rodrigo Prieto (Wolf of Wall Street) gorgeously shoot some ugly acts in Japan. Then, as the film moves to Portugal, we see Garfield’s Father Rodrigues and Driver’s Father Garupe speak with Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds), where they, and we, learn that Ferreira is missing and presumed to have apotheosized and turned to Buddhism. Impossible to believe about their mentor and such a holy man, they follow Koichijro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) – a Japanese man who wrestles greatly with his faith – to a region where the outlawed religion is practiced, despite the restrictions and risks.
 
Now you don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate a film like Silence. The majority of this film follows the trials and tribulations of Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues as he witnesses torture and murder of Japanese Catholics at the order of the Inquisitor (Issei Ogata). Throughout the film, he is weighed down with whether to stand firm in his faith or remain silent or apostatize – denouncing his faith – so that the Japanese Catholics may have a chance to live. The film is all about his struggle, and anyone with any morals or values held dear whether that include a religion or something else can find it easy sympathize with Garfield’s character.
 
It also helps that who the audience follows on screen is none other than Andrew Garfield. I have always found Garfield to be a fantastic actor, and he’s been even better than ever before this past year. Silence, along with Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, have featured Garfield’s career best performances by far. His Academy Award nomination this year comes for Hacksaw Ridge, but he could have been nominated for Silence as well. He commands the screen, absolutely believable in this powerful role that demands the audience to wrestle with the same choice his character faces.
 
We also get to take a peak inside the lives of these immensely brave Japanese men and women who have faith against all odds, fully aware of what’s at stake. We get to see the men of power like the Inquisitor who feel threatened by the practice of Christianity and work their hardest to prevent it from spreading and shaking the foundation of Japan. These two differing fractions converge in many agonizing scenes where the without power Japanese Catholics are forced to step on a holy image or else be hung on a cross not unlike the God they worship. That these scenes are so tense and so agonizing are testaments to Martin Scorsese, and it’s quite clear that this is a work he cares deeply about and has worked very hard to make.
 
How is one of the greatest directors of all time with his passion project? Pretty good. Were it just about any other director, the work done here would be worthy of highest praise, because it is quite a marvel to watch. Scorsese does do a great job directing Silence in sequences like those mentioned above, but when your filmography includes Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, and my personal favorite, Shutter Island, it falls a bit short in my opinion. In time, it’s possible Silence will be seen in even higher regard. It’s a film that requires the audience to think.
 
I have only a few issues with the film that aren’t major. I would have enjoyed Silence better had Scorsese cut a few chunks off of the film, but I can understand why he did not. An epic like Silence, at two hours and forty minutes long, is designed to be long and torturous, leaving us with no choice but to sympathize with Garfield in captivity. But there is one scene with raging waves where the audio is notably cut – when this one character is speaking there is tremendous background noise from the ocean, which is absent when he’s not speaking even though we are still focused on this setting. Someone who doesn’t watch as many films as I do may not notice it, but I could not help but hear it at a bothersome level. And a minor spoiler here, but while Liam Neeson, when he appears, is up to par as Father Ferreira, don’t expect him to be the star of the film. The poster markets it that way, but he is absent for most of Silence.
 
Silence follows the religious struggle of Father Rodrigues, one of the year’s best performances from Andrew Garfield, as he travels in search of his mentor to Japan in the 17th century where Christianity is outlawed and met with a brutal death. With Garfield commanding the screen, Scorsese’s passion project manages to be quite a fantastic film, and at times nothing short of agonizing. Before the end, you’ll be asking yourself, “what would I do?”
 
I give Silence an 8.5.


    3 Comments

  1. Katie PeckhamFebruary 5th, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Thanks for the review! I was excited to see it on here.

    Was just wondering if you could be more specific about how “Silence” falls short in comparison with Scorsese’s other films? (Genuinely curious, not disagreeing with you here)

    Also, just a thought: Regarding both issues you mentioned having with the film (the background noise of the ocean, and the absence of Liam Neeson in the film), might it be possible for them to actually have been intentional on Scorsese’s part? For example, might Neeson’s absence in the film (after setting up the expectation that he would feature more largely in it, according to the posters) be meant to give the viewer a taste of the bewildered disappointment that Fr’s Rodrigues and Garupe experienced when they expected to find their mentor leading the charge only to find that he had completely abandoned the call?

    Likewise, I wonder if the discomfort felt at the “screwy” audio choices during the beach scene could have been intended, actually forcing the viewer to experience the vertigo those in the scene might have felt at the experience they were having, perhaps shockingly and painfully different from what they expected? I know that something I, for one, simultaneously hate and love about good art is that it often just dunks you into a feeling rather than preparing you for it or telling you that it’s about to dunk you. So uncomfortable sometimes, but then so powerful to realize what just happened to you through it, and effective at getting its point across. Just my $0.02.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

  2. Katie PeckhamFebruary 5th, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for the review! I was excited to see it on here.

    Was just wondering if you could be more specific about how “Silence” falls short in comparison with Scorsese’s other films? (Genuinely curious, not disagreeing with you here)

    Also, just a thought: Regarding both issues you mentioned having with the film (the background noise of the ocean, and the absence of Liam Neeson in the film), might it be possible for them to actually have been intentional on Scorsese’s part? For example, might Neeson’s absence in the film (after setting up the expectation that he would feature more largely in it, according to the posters) be meant to give the viewer a taste of the bewildered disappointment that Fr’s Rodrigues and Garupe experienced when they expected to find their mentor leading the charge only to find that he had completely abandoned the call?

    Likewise, I wonder if the discomfort felt at the “screwy” audio choices during the beach scene could have been intended, actually forcing the viewer to experience the vertigo those in the scene might have felt at the experience they were having, perhaps shockingly and painfully different from what they expected? I know that something I, for one, simultaneously hate and love about good art is that it often just dunks you into a feeling rather than preparing you for it or telling you that it’s about to dunk you. So uncomfortable sometimes, but then so powerful to realize what just happened to you through it, and effective at getting its point across. Just my $0.02.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

  3. Andrew ClarkeFebruary 7th, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for the reply, Katie!

    I initially want to say no that the beach audio wasn’t intentional, because the audio of the ocean doesn’t match up. But then again it’s not like Scorsese, who has proven time and time again to be so good at making films, to unintentionally do something like that, so I could very well be mistaken. And I’m sure everything Liam Neeson was intentional by Scorsese, but just based upon the way Silence is marketed, I don’t want someone who could be a huge Liam Neeson fan going into this film expecting to see him in 95% of it. That’s an excellent point about suggesting a sympathy with their bewildered disappointment.

    And in regards to his other films, I feel that the Scorsese movies everyone knows, even people who aren’t moviegoers, like Taxi Driver have more going for them in terms of style, cinematography, and content, which isn’t necessarily a knack on Silence, just that Scorsese has made some incredible films. For me, when I think of Taxi Driver, or one of the DiCaprio ones, I think of the look and the script as much if not more than the performances from brilliant actors. Instead for me what I took out of this film more than anything else is Garfield’s performance, though Scorsese does do a great job. It’s possible that when it comes out on home release and I get a chance to view the film for a second time, I may wish to rescind that statement, as I really enjoyed Silence.

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