Hot Take: Scorsese’s passion project took 20+ years to make it to the cinema. It’s hard to believe a film of its caliber with a director of Scorsese’s pedigree was this difficult to get financial support. Then again, it won’t make any money at the box office so you’d be hard pressed to fault the studios.
Silence is one of those films that you watch and realize why someone would become so obsessed with getting it made. You also realize, as the film spans 161 minutes and deals with very deep philosophical issues, why many studios wouldn’t give the film the time of day even with an auteur such as Martin Scorsese as the obsessed artist looking to bring the film to life. Silence is beautifully shot and well thought out. It’s a real think piece. It’ll also be lucky to break even despite its somewhat modest (in modern terms) $40 million budget.
The film itself is excellent. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, two very non-Portuguese actors, portray Father Sebastiao Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garupe, two Portuguese Jesuit priests who beg the church for permission to go to Japan to find out what really happened to Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) after word comes from Japan that Father Ferreira has apostatized. Apostatizing is the act of renouncing your religion which was a Japanese focus in the 17th century as the country felt invaded by Christians attempting to convert the Japanese citizens to Christianity.
Both Garfield and Driver do a serviceable job as the two priests but learning that there was once talk of Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio Del Toro in the roles (and even rumors of Javier Bardem for one of the roles), you get the feeling this could have been better. There’s the whitewashing aspect that rears its head, too. Neither Garfield nor Driver are Portuguese which brings in ancillary issues to a film that is already filled with discussion points.
The story boils down to one of faith and how can it withstand being tested in the face of torture and violence. Garfield’s Father Rodrigues takes the lead role in the film and we follow him from one test of faith to another. It’s a road most would choose not to travel but we also get his perspective through Garfield’s narration of most of the film in the form of a letter sent back to the church that he is unsure will ever reach its destination. It acts more as a journal with depth of insight of his thought process as these horrific events occur around him due to Japan’s lack of acceptance of their religious practice.
As the film progresses, you realize this is one that will be appreciated more after its theatrical run as many will be unlikely to make the trip to the cinema to see it. Scorsese’s fingerprints are all over the film. His cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and the setting of Taiwan (where the film was shot) provide stunning visuals. It’s a deep film, the anti-popcorn flick. It’s as far away from mindless summer films as you can get outside of the three recognizable actors in the movie who once played Spider-Man, Kylo Ren and Zeus.
Unfortunately, widespread respect for what Scorsese accomplishes with Silence is unlikely to come without time unless the film earns enough recognition from the Academy to get people into theaters to see what his labor of love has bestowed. For those who do make the trip to the cinema to see it, they’ll be faced with the challenge of processing the film’s rather intellectual look at faith while also dealing with some very graphic depictions of hardship and, in some cases, torture which the priests endured in their nightmare of a spiritual journey.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Liam Neeson
Neeson’s Father Ferreira is the genesis of the mission our main characters are on. He appears briefly in the opening of the film and then again later. His role is vital to the plot and Neeson turns in the strongest performances in the movie.
- Perfectly Photographed
What’s amazing about the way Silence looks is that, from afar, it looks like a film from a few decades ago but it also looks as crisp and clean as anything made today. The locations chosen for shooting should also be recognized as the scenic landscapes provide an authentic backdrop for the movie.
- Silence Raises Questions
Silence has you asking yourself questions, especially if you are one of faith. Could you withstand the trials these people did in their quest to honor their faith? Is honoring your faith really that important?
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Length
Silence leaves no stone unturned. At some points, though, it feels like it is even overturning the pebbles as every minute detail is explored. The problem is there is an occasional feeling that Silence could have been tighter and more effective had it had less to say.