Director: Martin Scorsese
Runtime: 161 minutes
You know what this film does? It draws a clear distinction between what a movie is and what a film is. A movie is entertainment, something fun, and escapist. But a film goes deeper than that. It’s an artistic marvel, a true beauty to behold. Yet it comes at a price. Films have weight and every time you watch one it’s “an experience” because it takes something out of you and subjects you to hard truths and slow pacing.
Silence is a film. And a very good one at that.
Martin Scorsese helmed this picture, and while I won’t say it’s one of his best as I have only seen The Wolf of Wall Street, I will say that I’m flat-out astounded that a man in his 70s can produce something as graphic, intense and thought-provoking as Silence. BFG who? No, it doesn’t hold back, and nor should it.
Silence follows Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan after hearing that one of their superiors, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, has renounced Christianity. Initially, neither of them can believe it – out of the question – but once they get there, once they see what it’s like in 17th century Japan for a Jesuit priest, they begin to understand.
There is torture in this film, but it’s not gratuitous. There’s blood, but it’s called for. The real pain this film inflicts comes from the characters and what they do to hold onto their faith, even if the film makes a strong case for them to do the opposite. It does an excellent job of getting the viewer to contemplate where they stand with the plight of Christians vs. Buddhists. Silence never truly holds one faith over the other and – aside from the direction, stellar performances, and a great script – this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. I think Scorsese understood that if this material was to work, it needed to show both sides of the argument. The Christians were noble… but to a fault; the Buddhists sought inner peace, but would torture and kill to get it. They both find balance from each other’s imbalance, both are hypocrites, but this is where the film lives and it makes for a fascinating viewing experience.
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver carry this film, but it’s clear by the end of the second act and by the classic Scorsese move, narration, that this is Garfield’s story. And I’ll say this of his performance: if he ever says or ever has said that he values his craft and he works at it, I’d believe it. This is a step up from anything I’ve seen him in. Maybe it’s the Scorsese-factor, maybe the material, but Garfield just flows intensity and you really feel like he was being dragged along with his character.
I always enjoy seeing Adam Driver on screen because he just doesn’t look like a guy who you would cast in a movie. And his lines get lost in that twangy slosh of an accent he has, but here it is doubly worse because he gives it a Spanish twist. He plays off Garfield well, but disappears half-way through the movie.
Liam Neeson is in this, too. Yeah, he was good, but while his performance fits what was needed it suffered from the fact that he is clearly an Irishman playing a guy named Cristóvão Ferreira. Please. It would have been nice if they had cast all Spanish or all Portuguese actors in these roles. It is a bit distracting, but not a massive detractor.
Silence is worth seeing. But know that it isn’t a light movie-going experience. It’s heavy and it’s shocking but it pulls at you. How strongly do you hold to what you believe? Would you die for it?
And also, of all the names to pick, why is it called Silence? God only knows.