When one hears legendary Martin Scorsese’s name attached to a new project, there is an automatic assumption that it is going to feature the usual tropes: the voice-over narration, the exceptional soundtrack and an excessive running time. While some of these tropes are present in his latest release, there are some adjustments made to them as well. Basically, the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as a boisterous priest delivering powerful monologues isn’t there, and there is the absence of a soundtrack; in fact, there is little to no music in the film, perhaps not surprising considering its title.
Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, (of which Scorsese has voiced his admiration), it is a project Scorsese has been eager to get off the ground for over 26 years. The film focuses on two Jesuit priests: Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) who travel to Nagasaki, Japan, upon hearing news that their fellow priest Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has renounced the Christian faith after an extensive period of torture and mistreatment. What then unfolds is a tale of religion, devotion, and horror as the story strives to ask the penultimate question as to how far one would go to keep their faith.
This is an incredibly compelling film with a lot working in its favour. Both Garfield and Driver deliver solid performances, despite shifting in and out of wonky accents and it is fantastic to see Neeson do some proper acting, rather than point a gun at an Eastern Europeans head demanding the location of his absent daughter. But by far, the best performance is Tadanobu Asano as the sinister Inquisitor, whom, with his high-pitched voice and monotone delivery, makes for what is sure to be one of the more intimidating antagonists of the year and is deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod.
While the performances and directing are top notch, along with gorgeous cinematography of Nagasaki by Rodrigo Prieto, there are also clear flaws associated with this film. For a start, it takes its time to get going and many of the extended talks of faith and Christianity could have been trimmed by a couple of minutes. As well as this, the length is an issue. There were several moments in which I thought the film was coming to a close when in reality there were still another 50 minutes or so left. Also, it is only towards the end of the film that the focus transitions away from the other characters and becomes Garfield’s story and it is only in the film’s final moments where he gets the opportunity to showcase his talent as one of the great actors working today.
In the end, Silence is another impressive addition to Scorsese’s filmography, which fans of his work will be very happy to watch. However, like Shyamalan, those unfamiliar with his work may have trouble latching on to this and may see it as a 3-hour sermon. While there is a lot of great material here to recommend, it is perhaps not the ideal introduction to Scorsese for any first-time viewers. Sean Moriarty.