If you follow the career of Martin Scorsese loosely you might be surprised that he would follow up his epic tale of debauchery and greed, The Wolf of Wall Street, with the tranquil, yet brutal Silence. Peer closer at some of his less mainstream pictures; Kundun, Bringing Out the Dead, and The Last Temptation of Christ, and it becomes clear that it was only a matter of time before he made Silence. Scorsese’s latest is a culmination of the themes of religion and faith that drive much of his filmography. A tale of anguish, suffering, belief, agony, and reconciliation, this is possibly his most harrowing picture, as the characters are put through hell to prove the faith which is the foundation of their very lives. You’ll be hard pressed to find an experience quite like Silence this year.
Based off of the critically acclaimed novel of the same name written by Shûsaku Endô and adapted to the screen by Masahiro Shinoda, Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively), who with the help of a disgraced christian named Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) try to find and redeem their teacher Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson, in a Japan hostile to Christianity.
Scorsese’s usual kinetic direction is way more subdued with this film. This felt less like a regular Scorsese picture and more of a film Akira Kurosawa would have made in his prime. Many scenes feel very reminiscent of Rashomon and Seven Samurai with regards to both performance and staging. While these influences are apparent, Scorsese is still able to put his own voice into the film with the symbolism of faith. He uses natural elements such as fog, light, and of course tranquil silence to show the unclearness of the faith that Rodrigues blindly follows so that he can become more like the man he worships.
Garfield appears in his second most anticipated prestige picture of the season, which correlates thematically to the previously released, Hacksaw Ridge. Both focus on trying to hold onto your faith in the darkest of times. But where Hacksaw Ridge was subpar in its religious aspects, Silence excels. While Hacksaw Ridge is a fine film, the main issue was Mel Gibson’s attempts at trying to make Garfield's character a Christ figure. In Silence a similar type of theme happens only Scorsese isn’t trying to make Rodrigues Christ like, he shows not only the beauty of faith but also the hypocrisy that's inherent.
The two lead performances by Garfield and Driver are outstanding. At first I was worried when I heard their accents in the trailer, which at first came off a bit silly but in the end worked extremely well for the world Scorsese has created. While Driver and Neeson don’t have a lot to do here their roles never feel wasted and go to great lengths to enchance the overall expierence. It’s good to see Neeson in something where he isn’t playing a badass with a kidnapped daughter for a change and just playing a man whose faith and spirit have been broken. The Japanese cast is also on another level, Yôsuke Kubozuka and Yoshi Oida have a particularly memorable scene, that as stated earlier is reminiscent of the work of Kurosawa. It would be a disservice to their performances if they didn't get recognized as much as the English speaking cast.
Silence cannot be discussed without mentioning Rodrigo Prieto's breathtaking cinematography, as this is one of the most stunning pictures of 2016. While it doesn’t have the classic Scorsese camera movement tropes, that’s a benefit here. This is a haunting, almost scary looking film. The fog scenes are some of the most gorgeously shot sequences in ages. The way Scorsese and Prieto shoots fire is also commendable as they show a holiness in even the most gruesome of scenarios. Numerous shots here make the audience feel like God himself, looking down at these characters and seeing their struggles, but unable or unwilling to intervene.
Scorsese has been hailed throughout his career as a cleric of cinema and with the release of Silence I couldn’t agree more. This is one of the most bold and daring films of the past decade that proves that Scorsese is still in his prime. A picture of pureness and bravery that should be appreciated by anyone with even a passing interest in the subject matter. It's the equivalent of a real life religious experience that should not be missed.