A near 3 hour historical drama, even if it is directed by Scorcese himself, is not going to be for the casual viewer. But behind the challenging first encounter is a film that is worth experiencing – if only once.
Silence (2016) is a historical drama co-written and directed by Martin Scorcese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed). It stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Catholic Portuguese priests Rodrigues and Garrpe who venture to Japan in order to both spread Catholicism and discover the fate of their lost mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
Apparently a long-gestating passion project of Scorcese, this true story 161 minute historical narrative has finally seen the light of day. The interesting thing is, watching it you would have no idea Scorcese was the one behind the camera. Not only is it a film completely out of his wheelhouse and style, the final product feels unusually rough, lacking the polish one would expect from a prestigious director’s Hollywood film starring two prominent up-and-coming actors. True to its name there’s virtually no score, its not interested in grand cinematography (ala The Revenant), prefers to keep its production small-scale and there’s even a number of audio gaffs rather prominently heard.
It’s an admirable, if unusual, approach to a film and exudes a feeling of raw and natural film-making, as if there isn’t an entire production team behind Scorcese. The small scale of the film is also beneficial to the story itself, keeping a laser focus on this singular story instead of trying to create a grand historical epic. All of this praise aside however, this movie is a slog. Both the rawness and intimacy may contribute to an interesting film design, but does not add to an engaging viewing experience, making this already lengthy endeavour that much more of a struggle. I am ashamed to say I almost fell asleep on several occasions, which feels sacrilegious in a Scorcese film, but also speaks to the type of movie people need to expect. This is not for the weary, easily bored or impatient. But those who do endure are still likely to find something worth sticking around for.
I’ve been a fan of Andrew Garfield ever since I first heard of him as Spiderman, and the bloke clearly knows how to pick his roles (well, ironically, outside of Spiderman). The Social Network, 99 Homes and apparently Hacksaw Ridge (which I am yet able to see but hear very good things) all showcase his clear talent, but nothing quite comes close to his role in Silence. It’s a physical performance, as Garfield clearly lost Machinist levels of weight for the role, and works wonders through an understated but intensive portrayal of a man having his very being challenged and stretched by his environment. All the same can be said for Adam Driver’s performance, but the focus of the film does lean towards Garfield. Liam Neeson is an odd addition due to his limited screentime, and while he’s a talented actor he never quite sells the Portugal priest position that Garfield and Driver does. Those are the three biggest names in the production and outside of that Scorcese has wisely kept the rest of the cast to Japanese actors. They all do an excellent job, with the sole detractor of Issei Ogata as the Inquisitor, the head of Christian persecution in Japan. His almost comical and obtuse delivery feels as if it comes from a completely different film and severely detracts from an essential character.
Silence may have its detractors to many, including its exuberant length, raw film-making and uncompromising execution, but to those that delve into its facets there is quite an astonishing experience to be had here. Likely to force many investors to question their own approach to their beliefs and faith, and ultimately presents a narrative that is worth exploring. Despite struggling through boredom on occasions, I’d still say Silence is a film worth seeing. I just never want to see it again.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Art-housers: Highly Recommended