Hauntingly powerful religious saga.
Scorcese’s work is – with a few exceptions – some of the most culturally impactful to date. Goodfellas, alongside Coppola’s Godfather, are the templates for a perfect gangster film. His most recent film, which saw DiCaprio play a certain Wolf, encapsulated a new brand of criminal. But this is different; Silence is a passion project for the (unknown-to-some) religious filmmaker, giving him the chance to sink his teeth into a different type of drama, and continue work started back with The Last Temptation of Christ.
When rumours of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) renouncing Christianity in Japan reach two priests, Father Rodriques (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) set out to find him, whilst trying to survive in a time where their religion is outlawed.
From a simple plot summary, one could hastily assume this is a mere rescue-thriller. But what takes place is a much deeper, thoughtful experience. Garfield and Driver’s characters, as part of their journey, meet small Japanese communities, committed to retaining the faith under the state’s rule, secretly. From here, many questions are raised by Scorcese; why do these people persist to follow Christianity, why does God watch as his followers are tortured for their beliefs, are Christians’ prayers being heard? Not much is left to the imagination either; we watch as Christians are drowned tied to crucifixes, or covered in scalding water slowly. Unlike exploitive cinema however, this is played out with an underlying beauty – mist traverses across the shots, sound fades until we hear the crashing of the waves. Scorcese, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto have illustrated a brutal, unflinching portrayal of 17th Century Japan.
As a cast, despite not seeming a likely success for this calibre of drama, perform exceedingly well. Neeson’s character isn’t around for much of the screen time, but his clearly broken faith is chilling to the eyes. Driver moves on from his turn as Kylo Ren, giving his steadfast priest authenticity with a terrific performance. It’s Garfield who get’s the most screen time, and has proved his genuine acting chops. His dodgy accent slips every now and again, but his struggle and desperation is expertly performed. Tadanobu Asano deserves more than a mention also, as a Japanese interpreter who torments Rodrigues endlessly but subtly.
At 160 minutes, it’s a long, slow-burner, that never quite leaps too far in terms of intensity – by that, the intensity stays pretty constant apart from the odd shock. Each development remains somber, and although it’s without a doubt an achievement, Silence falls dangerously into feeling like a drag in the last half hour. The story won’t move as you expect it to, but movements are few and far between. Some may miss Scorcese’s trademark touches – he’s still snuck in a few such as razor-sharp camera movements – but it’s important to remember this sits apart from his other work. Thoroughly inspired by Japanese cinema from the likes of Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, it’s a one of a kind.
To sum it up…
Scorcese’s historical epic isn’t for the faint of heart (or the lack of patience). Coming out you aren’t crushed, which perhaps is where it fails. But this is Garfield and Driver upping their game, and the legendary filmmaker finally giving us his labour of love.
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Author: Cameron Frew