Silence is directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks and stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Issei Ogata, Tadanobu Assano, Yoshi Oida, Shin'ya Tsukamoto and Liam Neeson. Based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô, it follows two Catholic missionaries from Portugal who travel into a Japan, where Christianity is outlawed, in search of their mentor who they struggle to believe has apostatised and denounced his Christian faith. Through their journey, they face torture and violence, causing them to heavily question their own faith and the faith of others in their religion. This is a Martin Scorsese film. Need I say more? Of course I was excited for this; it's Scorsese at his most passionate and personal, going back to the themes and philosophies he explored with The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988 and Kundun in 1997. Needless to say, I love the work of Martin Scorsese, as most film fans do, and Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and Goodfellas are some of my all time favourite films. This, however, looked like one of the rare occasions where the famous director was stepping away from the mob movie aesthetic to delve deep into something more spiritual, like he did in the films I mentioned earlier. So, yes I was looking forward to this, but what did I think of it? Here's my take on Silence.
Now, I've heard the word masterpiece being thrown around in response to this film. I personally think that word is a strong word to use, and that you should really think about a film and let it settle in your mind before using it. And therefore, I don't know if I would go so far as to say that Silence is a masterpiece, but I do think it is one of the finest films of the year, and that's mostly because of the extreme level of depth and weight it holds. The whole film feels as if it's having a powerful and in depth debate with itself about the nature of spirituality. The script by Scorsese and Jay Cocks manages to display insight and and knowledge, but deep personal struggle aswell, with a story that feels as if it is perfect for summarising all these themes whilst still adding to the discussion, and dialogue that never fails to be thought provoking or painfully honest. The constant voiceover of Andrew Garfield's Rodrigues allows us to understand the character's thoughts and feelings in a way the other character's in the film can't, which gives a profound emotional effect whilst also explaining the complicated nature of religion without explicitly saying it.
It's also strikingly lensed, with cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto that gives a beautiful sense of serenity and peace, even in the moments of harsh violence and torture, creating a beautifully provocative contrast. I also personally adored the consistent imagery of the misty and murky atmosphere of Japan in the first act of the film, creating a stirring sense of confusion through the unknown. It's also wonderfully edited and cut together, only adding to the disturbing sense of quiet serenity from which so much intensity is allowed to surface. And I'm sure Scorsese will get Oscar nominated for his direction here. He is an auteur, and he only proves that with this latest project. He orchestrates something painfully intimate yet undeniably operatic, controlling the film to give an impactful and experiential effect on the audience.
In terms of performances, I think Garfield and Neeson are very good in their conviction and commitment to their characters, but I don't think that their accents are particularly believable. Garfield actually often slips into his British accent and Neeson doesn't sound Portuguese at all. Maybe I missed something, but I'm sure the character was meant to be Portuguese and Neeson wasn't even trying in my opinion. I do think Adam Driver's accent was, on the whole, far better, but his character did get sidelined as the film went on, which is a shame because I thought both the character and the performance were really interesting. Therefore, the standout performances for me were actually the ones of the Japanese actors. I thought Yôsuke Kubozuka was excellent as Kichijiro, delivering a multi-layered and unique performance where I seemed to feel a legitimate connection with him, whilst also managing to understand the annoyance Rodrigues felt at his presence. That being said, the best performance of the film, for me, was Issei Ogata as the sinister Inoue, or The Inquisitor. I thought the physicality and vocal versatility of the performance was remarkable, painting the perfect portrait of a villainous man, and managing to be both believable and legitimately intimidating.
If I had one other criticism of the film it would be that it's simply just too long in my opinion. It's not that length isn't needed to fully flesh out the ideas at play here, but rather that the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film didn't feel like a necessity. I felt that the final moments were, visually, very poignant and rounded out the film very well, but before that we do just get a narration that sort of tells us what we already know. It gives us new information, but it doesn't necessarily feel like that new information is needed in the closing of this story. Towards the end we get the powerful finality of the decision to the dilemma Rodrigues has been facing throughout the film, and it's incredibly moving and devastating, and then we get about another 15 minutes of narration, and I just didn't feel like that was all that needed.
Overall, I found Silence to be a fascinating, passionate and heavy look at faith and spirituality, despite having but a few flaws with it. It felt marvellously personal and intimate, but still grand and epic in scale. The intensity was so present, yet ingeniously hidden behind the constant sense of serenity and timid beauty, captured outstandingly by the film's camerawork and cinematography. It's a film that I will have to let settle in my mind and watch several times over before I think I can truly understand the complexity of it, but for now, I will say it's one of the best films of the year, and Scorsese's finest work since The Departed.
So what did you think of Silence? Have you seen it? Did you enjoy it? Make sure to let me know down in the comments and if you liked this review and want to see more go to creators.co/@garwoodreviews for more.