UK Release Date: 1st January 2017
Runtime: 161 minutes
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata, Tadanobu Asano, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Ciarán Hinds
Synopsis: Two Catholic priests travel to a Japan that is hostile to Christianity in order to track down their mentor, who has allegedly apostatised under torture from the violent regime.
It’s fair to say that Martin Scorsese is currently in the midst of a very interesting phase of his career. After making the sweet family movie Hugo, Scorsese crafted a tale of absolute excess with bombastic drama The Wolf of Wall Street. His latest movie is no less epic in scale or length, but is something far more introspective. In the shape of religious epic Silence, Scorsese has made a movie that proves he is a filmmaker who is just as adept in the gorgeous landscapes of 17th century Japan as the mean streets of modern New York.
Jesuit missionaries Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) receive a letter from their former mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), which suggests that he has apostatised and renounced his Christian faith as a result of torture from the oppressive regime in Japan. The two priests travel to the country in an attempt to track Ferreira down and, with the help of guide Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), they find a small community of Japanese Christians living in hiding. The pair are eventually separated and Rodrigues finds himself being tortured, mentally and physically, by the Inquisitor (Issey Ogata).
Silence is one of Scorsese’s most personal films, but it’s told in the most epic way possible. The film runs for almost three hours and takes in sumptuous locations as its plot sprawls across the area around Nagasaki. Despite its epic trappings, it’s an intimate take on faith and the unshakability of that faith even in the midst of enormous hardship. Scorsese, who famously questioned his own faith, weaves a complex tale of an entire country in which appearing to be a Christian is something that is heavily punished. The film deals with the tough question of whether God is watching you, whether God can hear you and whether God requires absolute faith at all times. It’s a contemplative, stately movie that asks serious questions and has the courage to let the answers not come easily.
This is a film that takes its time and allows its central characters to ask questions. Scorsese wisely keeps the film moving along at a measured speed, punctuating the, if you’ll pardon the pun, silence with explosions of genuinely visceral violence. The scenes of torture are jarring and brutal in their execution and occasional sudden explosions of brutality are jarring in amongst the quiet theological discussions. Scorsese shoots these scenes at a distance, focusing on the effects this horror has on his central characters as those who have supported them are tortured and killed.
The whole thing is held together by Andrew Garfield, who gives one of his best ever performances as Rodrigues. He and his occasionally sidelined co-star Adam Driver are hamstrung by severely ropey Portuguese accents, but their work is strong. Garfield’s face is left with a lot of the narrative heavy lifting, particularly in the film’s final stages, and the star rises to the challenge. His arrogance and certainty is gradually taken apart over the course of the movie and this transformation is genuinely compelling to watch. The true stars, though, are the Japanese cast of Silence, including Yōsuke Kubozuka as the wonderfully moral mess that is Kichijiro and Issey Ogata in a performance that perfectly matches comedy and darkness as the verbose, violent Inquisitor.
Silence is a tough film to love and there are swathes of its running time where the length does come to the forefront and it feels as if Scorsese is treading water. However, when the film is able to communicate its central thesis, it’s a quietly gripping movie that is among the best work the director has done in recent years. The period setting and original source novel is a jumping-off point for a frank and complex depiction of faith anchored by a series of very strong acting performances.
Pop or Poop?
Martin Scorsese has combined his sense for epic spectacle with a deeply personal story in Silence in order to put together a film that is defiantly inaccessible, but thoroughly interesting. It’s a breath-taking movie on a visual level and a stunning showcase for Garfield and Driver, who have thus far been ignored in the awards season scrum. It isn’t the most palatable meal but, if you are able to finish your plate, you’ll certainly find plenty to chew on.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.