Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
To make a film about faith, or religion, is always a risky venture. There is always the chance that someone will be offend and cry foul. This appears to be far from the case with Martin Scorsese’s Silence, a film about Portuguese, Jesuit missionaries taking Christianity to Japan. Silence marks Scorsese’s second most film explicitly about Christianity since 1988’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. While there are a select number of scenes open to interpretation, Scorsese appears to have made a film with a less controversial, examination of Christianity.
Silence focuses on two Portuguese Jesuits, Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who go to Japan seeking to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who is rumored to have apostatized. During this time Christianity is outlawed in Japan, and even their presence in the country is a danger to themselves and the people they proclaim the gospel to.
This film is far from being a technical marvel. The film tries to focus on the beauty of Japan before it became a technological epicenter of the world, and yet so many of the shots fail to capture the beauty of the country. There are several shots from inside of a prison cell that are dizzying to watch and are noticeably composed poorly. Theres a scene where one of the Christians is being tortured and the audio is poorly edited. There also several noticeable edits, and a noticeable edits are a bad edit. That being said, this film is more about the story than it is about the way the story is shown. Which is a shame because I have higher standards for a film that is so clearly meant to be Oscar-bait.
Andrew Garfield delivers one of the best performances I’ve seen from him since he played Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network. Does his accent frequently disappear? Yes. But by the end of the film I was so focused on his journey and his trials that it didn’t matter. Adam Driver was a perfect pairing with Garfield. The two characters clearly looked at their faith differently, which create uniquely balanced dynamic between the two as they interacted which each of the Japanese. Garfield’s character is the focus of the film, which means Driver’s character is left behind about halfway through the film. I almost would have enjoyed an extra 40 minutes in the film (and an intermission) if we got to experience the story from both characters simultaneously. It would have brought further perspective to a country that outlawed Christianity. Garfield’s character was an interesting and dynamic character to follow, but Driver’s character left me wanting more, which makes for a good supporting character. Liam Neeson delivers his usual Liam Neeson performance, which is fine since he is only in the film for about 30 minutes. One of the surprising performances of the film came from Yôsuke Kubozuka who plays Kichijiro in the film. His inclusion in the story was meant to be an archetype for those of us watching, and his exuberance and passion made me care just as much for his character as I did Garfield’s. His character was flawed in a way that made him seem more human and relatable than the rest of the characters the two priests come across.
Even though the film has a running time of 2 hours and about 40 minutes, Silence never slips into boring territory. Everything that happens is essential to driving the story forward. The film gave us adequate time to see Garfield’s thoughts and emotions shift the longer he stayed in Japan. The story moved quickly when it needed to, and other times it slowed down in order to paint every detail of the scene.
It has taken me some time to determine whether or not I ultimately liked the film or not. Objectively, it was a good film. I hesitate to say it was great. The real question is whether Scorsese has made a likable film. For me, yes. the more I think about the film and its ending, the more angles I am able to examine it from, and the more I like it. I can’t remember the last time my wife and I have discussed a film to this extent. The one thing I have come to determine from this film are my feelings about Martin Scorsese as a director. While there are some people who will continue to sing his praises, I have come to determine he is a fairly mediocre filmmaker. I get the impression from Silence that Scorsese believes he is smarter than everyone else, and not only does he want you to know that, he needs to explain to you why he is.