****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!
Estimated Reading Time : 6 Minutes 37 Seconds
My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 Stars
My Recommendation : SEE IT. If you are a Catholic you must go see it now!! If you are a person of no faith or of another faith or even another denomination, the film may not resonate with you as much as it did with me. You can see it at your leisure.
Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, is the story of two Portuguese missionary Jesuit priests sent to Japan in the 1600's to try and find their missing mentor amidst a brutal nationwide persecution of Christians. The film stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as the Jesuit priests, Tadanobu Asano as their Japanese interpreter and Liam Neeson as their missing mentor Father Ferreira.
Silence is a testament to iconic director Martin Scorsese's filmmaking prowess. It is a monumental film, a grueling, staggering, unrelenting and intensely personal piece of work that is, without a doubt, one of the best of the year. Silence is not only a film about faith, but a film of faith, faith as failure, faith as doubt, faith as struggle. Silence is riddled with intriguing metaphors that speak to our time, on issues like personal faith, religion, cultural assimilation, arrogant colonialism, conquest and submission.
As much as I was enthralled by Silence, I am acutely aware that others may not, and probably will not, feel the same way about it I did. If you are not a person of faith, or a person of a non-Catholic faith, this may not be the film for you. The film could feel impenetrable for someone who has not spiritually struggled in a similar fashion as the film's lead character Father Rodigues struggles. The film is a question with no answer, and if you think you have the answer, then it will most definitely be lost on you. The film is also intensely and specifically Catholic. The Christ of Catholicism is a mystical whisper, a flicker in the dark, a distant yet vaguely familiar mystery. When and if Christ/God ever does speak with Catholics, it is in the stillness, in a voice as quiet as the grave and as thundering as the end of the universe or the beginning of one. If you are Christian but not Catholic, the film may feel spiritually foreign to you and thus be a more frustrating than enlightening experience.
Silence, while a marvelous and compelling film, is also not a perfect one. The film runs two hours and forty minutes which was cut down due to pressure from the studio from a reported running time of three hours and thirty minutes. The studio no doubt wanted a shorter running time in order to facilitate more showings per day-per theatre, which equals more money. As strange as this is to say, the film should have remained three hours and thirty minutes long, as it is too short at two hours and forty minutes. The third act of the film is clearly rushed and the overall power of the narrative undermined by that fact. I sincerely hope that at some point a directors cut of the picture is released so that Scorsese's true and entire vision can be seen and appreciated. The irony of the studio forcing Scorsese to cut the length of the film in order to get more showings, is that the film is performing dismally at the box office anyway. A film like Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese, one of the iconic filmmakers of all time, is a prestige picture and should be treated as such. The emphasis should be on bringing Scorsese's unmolested artistic vision to the screen, not trying squeeze every nickel and dime out of the public. Due to its subject matter, a dark religiosity and spiritual struggle, Silence had slim chances of being a box office smash anyway, so the studio would have been wise to shoot for a bevy of Oscar nominations and wins in order to drum up audiences. Once again the commerce of Hollywood has done harm to the art of a filmmaking genius, I am sure it won't be the last time.
The performances in Silence are all very solid. Andrew Garfield easily does the best work of his career as Father Rodrigues. Garfield played a somewhat similar type of role in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge this year, which was a terrible performance and a terrible film. Garfield's work in Silence is, thankfully, a million miles away from his lackluster work in Hacksaw Ridge. Garfield's performance in Silence is wonderfully crafted and filled with such a vivid internal life and struggle that he mesmerizes. Father Rodrigues' battle with fear, doubt, spiritual vertigo and pride are compellingly captured by the complex and layered work of Garfield. Garfield creates a character that is hoisted upon the cross of his own grandiosity and arrogance, who is both filled with a ferocious religious fire and also a delicate emotional and spiritual fragility. Garfield never wastes a moment on screen, or rings a false note in his entire magnetic performance which carries the picture upon his frail shoulders.
The supporting actors do solid if unspectacular work, especially compared to Andrew Garfield's work. The Japanese cast are all excellent across the board though, with Tadanobu Asano being the most noteworthy. His work as the priest's Japanese interpreter is crucial for the film and he never fails to captivate with his character's, at times, infuriating behavior.
Adam Driver and Liam Neeson do average work in supporting roles as Jesuit priests. I found Neeson to be, surprisingly, a bit underwhelming in his role. Driver was better than I thought he'd be, but he too never rises to the heights that Garfield does in terms of intensity and intricacy of performance.
After seeing the film I read up on the history of its development and production and the struggle it took to get it made. Apparently the film had been in development hell for over twenty years. One tidbit that I found fascinating was the cast that was scheduled to star in the film a few years back when it got closest to being made. That scheduled cast was stellar and included Daniel Day- Lewis, Benicio del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal in the three main roles. As much as I loved seeing this rendition of Silence, once I read that those actors could have been in it, I thought that their portrayal would have been markedly better than the one that was made. Day-Lewis, del Toro and Bernal are far superior actors to Neeson, Garfield and Driver. With that said, I was thoroughly enraptured with Garfield and Scorsese's 2017 version, but it is fun to speculate on what may have been.
In conclusion, Silence is a gorgeous, challenging, brutal and ultimately wondrous film. It is an intimate glimpse into the personal passion and crucifixion of a man on the cross of his faith and doubt. If ever there were a film that captured the arduous, perilous and ultimately confusing journey along the secret path of Christ, this is it. Silence is an exquisite work of art from the filmmaking genius that is Martin Scorsese, and is unquestionably the very best film of the second half of his career, and it isn't even close. I readily admit that this film is not for everyone, and that people of no faith or different faiths than Catholicism, will probably not connect as deeply with the film as I did, or at all. But if you are a person of faith, particularly a Catholic, I think this is not only a great film for you to go see, but a vital one. Martin Scorsese's faith mirrors my own in many ways, a sort of Merton and DeMello-esque, Buddhist Catholicism of deep meditative questioning, and hard fought, doubt-riddled belief. If you are religiously and spiritually wired the same way I am, I think Silence is well worth your sparse free time and hard earned money. If you share the same type of spiritual outlook as I do, then you shouldn't just go see Silence, you should seek it out like a man who's hair is on fire seeks water.