Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
The legendary Martin Scorsese directed the ridiculously-controversial The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. While he was promoting the Film, he was handed the novel Silence. And ever since that moment 28 years ago, he has been trying to direct a Film based on that Book. And after years of false starts, we are finally able to watch his passion project in all its glory.
After discovering their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has renounced his faith, Jesuit priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) head to seventeenth century Japan to search for him and to secretly help convert villagers to Christianity. But when they arrive, their faith begins to be tested as they face persecution, hostility and violence.
It is clear from the very first frame how passionate Scorsese is for Silence. It is lovingly-made, and absolutely stunning to look at. The enigmatic Trailer hints at some of the Film’s lush and gorgeous cinematography captured by Rodrigo Prieto (Scorsese’s Director of Photography previously on the wildly-chaotic The Wolf of Wall Street), but it is even better to watch as part of the final product. Each image Prieto captures is more breathtaking and creative than the last – even when the Film is at its most bleak and violent. The production design by Scorsese regular Dante Ferretti is just as spectacular, practically transporting the audience into the heart of Edo-period Japan. I cannot even begin to fathom the immense amount of detail put into every scene.
But as a die-hard Scorsese fan, I have to admit that Silence is incredibly-hard to watch. The Film is 162 minutes and somehow feels even longer. I know Scorsese is not one for brevity, but his work here borders on overkill. We understand quite early that the priests – especially Rodrigues – and the villagers are constantly having their faith in Christ questioned. But it feels like Scorsese is unsure of how the audience will understand this message. So he repeats it in different ways constantly (and even once in baffling slow motion), testing the patience of the actors and the audience. Rodrigues is supposed to be going through a transformative and spiritual journey, but I never really felt compelled by any of it. The Film’s minimal use of music does not make it any easier to digest.
Garfield was magnificent in the recent Hacksaw Ridge and I feel like he may be even better here. He brings a level of unmatched intensity to his character and does a terrific job conveying the perilous situations Rodrigues faces at every turn. His wide range of emotions really help drive the Film, and his passing resemblance to Jesus Christ cannot at all be a coincidence. Driver is a bit more methodical in his approach, shedding weight for his role as Garrpe – but he never seems to be given a moment to shine truly. Neeson fares even worse, remaining frustratingly-enigmatic in his small amount of screen time. But at least all of their characters remain serious. Yôsuke Kubozuka’s Kichijiro should be a tragically-flawed individual, but ends up becoming a painful running joke.
Silence is visually-spectacular, with a level of detail that most modern Filmmakers cannot even begin to approach. But Scorsese’s passion project is more of a vanity project. It is significantly longer than it needs to be, and its central thesis is never as clear as it should be. It is not a bad Film by any stretch, but it is challenging to admire.
Paramount Pictures Canada release SILENCE in select theatres starting Friday, January 6, 2016.