Thought provoking and enthralling. A master at work.
Beginning its life over two decades ago, Silence has been a long term passion project of Martin Scorsese and an eagerly awaited film among fans of his work. The film was originally intended to star Benicio del Toro, Gael Garcia Bernal and Daniel Day-Lewis back in 2009 and was shaping up to be one of cinema’s most anticipated releases before it hit various developmental roadblocks and pushed Scorsese back a further six years. In 2011, it was revealed that there were doubts about the expected cast’s involvement and it appeared as though Silence would take its place in the pre-production graveyard alongside the many films fallen before it with a tombstone reading ‘Potential Masterpiece 1990-2011.’ But, like Christ himself, Silence was resurrected and began its production with the new cast of Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson and dear lord, aren’t we glad it did.
The film is adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name and tells the story of two 17th century priests who travel from Portugal to Japan in order to find their lost mentor who has denounced religion. Their journey is then met with various horrifying challenges which throw faith, religion and humanity into question in a brutally honest fashion. Set against the backdrop of rural Japan (though shot in Taiwan,) Scorsese alongside cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto create what could possibly be 2017’s most aesthetically beautiful film. Stunning wide frames somehow manage to simultaneously inspire feelings of awe and poignant horror as Scorsese holds on three crucified martyrs as they are left to drown at the hands of the increasingly violent waves of the pacific ocean. Much like those very waves, Silence is a film which first washes over you with its beauty then progressively becomes increasingly aggressive in its treatment until you have become completely disorientated by its impact.
As expected, Martin Scorsese directs with a faultless professionalism which provides a complete justification of his position as one of cinema’s greatest living filmmakers. Though Silence is not as controversial as The Last Temptation of Christ, as stylish as Goodfellas or as accessible as The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese directs with a maturity that shines through his masterful handling of the hugely personal, conflicting existential themes whilst maintaining a narrative pace which never misses a single beat. Garfield proves his abilities again with a strong performance as the film’s lead while Neeson reminds us of his brilliance recently overshadowed by his poor selection of films to star in. It is Driver however who shines brightest. Though unfortunately underused his turn as Garfield’s religiously devout companion is transformative and utterly convincing during the scenes in which he is given a chance to flourish. Although, Silence is by no means perfect. There are brief moments when ideas are needlessly spelled out for the audience by voiceover, events which could come across as forced and maybe slightly out of place and times when the dialogue is at risk of tilting towards the realm of preachy. However none of this proves particularly damaging to the overall film and may even be seen as a positive by some.
Silence is a film which may be overlooked in cinemas by a mainstream audience due to its near three hour length and religious focus but its ideas are very much universal, its plot consistently enthralling and, as a cinematic experience, it delivers hugely on all counts. It is the type of film which aims to provoke big questions in a grandiose manor but all of the film’s provocations are those which need to be provoked in all of us. Regardless of belief or non-belief Silence offers something for contemplation and offers it with a force which is impossible to ignore. It is likely that Silence will ironically be making a lot of noise in the coming months with the awards season fast approaching, and though Scorsese has traded guns for bibles he is as loud as ever; after 25 years of being muted he has produced a screamer. What a pleasure it is to live in a time when we can still hear the master at work. Amen.
Silence (2017), directed my Martin Scorsese, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal. Certificate 15.