Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has built himself a reputation as movie making royalty. With a murderer’s row of films such as Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, Gangs of New York, or Wolf of Wall street to his credit, it is hard to dispute this perception. It has gotten to the point, where everything Scorsese puts out is literally considered gold. He has the Midas touch. So it’s with high expectations, that Silence got more of a nationwide release this past weekend in the lukewarm month of January after a limited release back in December.
Considered a “passion” project for Scorsese and supposedly in development for several years, Silence is a departure from Scorsese’s typical genre of film which is usually in the realm of modern crime and gang conflict. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, Silence is the tale of two Christian missionaries who journey to Japan in the 1600’s to find their lost friend and fellow missionary, Father Ferrara, who has also been rumored to have apostatized or denounced his Christian faith. On this mission they are faced with tremendous hardships and relentless tests of their faith.
Safe to say, that any Martin Scorsese movie is going to be technically sound and Silence delivers on that front. The movie is put together very beautifully. It was shot using 35mm film and it just gives the movie this incredible vintage look that really adds to the mood of the story. The lack of musical score is also something that is striking about the movie. It amplifies the tension and is a nice dramatic touch. Although filmed in Taiwan, you feel as if you are in coastal Japan, which is basically its own character in this movie… ominous, vast and threatening. It is as if you are literally at the edge of the world.
The story is compelling enough, but what really bogs this movie down is the run time. Usually I like long movies, but coming in at a bloated two hours and forty one minutes, it feels like a lot of this movie could have been trimmed down and still hit all the notes that it was trying to hit. The first act just isn’t engaging enough and it doesn’t start to get interesting until midway through the second act. Also the movie just has a dreary tone throughout and pretty much stays that way. Andrew Garfield and especially Adam Driver provide solid performances however so that helped. Liam Neeson’s character is definitely the most interesting though in the short amount of screen time he is given. In terms of violence, Silence is mildly disturbing but nothing grotesquely over the top.
When evaluating whether a movie is enjoyable or not, the technical aspect of it is something that should be weighed fairly but you can’t ignore the themes presented in it as well. While I don’t doubt that atrocities like the one presented in this movie happened back in this time period, I still question the depiction of the Japanese antagonists in this movie. To me it felt a very cliché, Western saviors vs. Eastern savages type of tale. The religious dogma is quite heavy. This is especially true in some scenes that include artwork of Jesus. I won’t spoil what occurs but it is fairly obvious when they do happen and it felt undermining of everything that had been shown up to that point. Silence is a polarizing story as it seems to go back and forth as to whether it is a testament to the power of blind faith or a harsh critique of it. Many will enjoy watching this but many will also fall asleep or walk out during this one. I’m not saying silence is better than Silence, but there might be better ways to spend an evening.