‘Silence’ Easier to Admire than Enjoy

silence_2016_filmThis is honestly going to be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written…

“Silence” is the latest film from Martin Scorsese, a passion project of the director’s for over 25 years. The film follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel from Portugal to Japan in order to locate their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) and spread the Christian faith.

It’s really hard to write a review about a film like this, because I have nothing but respect for Scorsese as a filmmaker and for his desire to make this film for a quarter-century and the cast is incredible. The film also looks beautiful, shot in Taiwan by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto who did “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Argo” and “Brokeback Mountain.” All that being said the film is far from an enjoyable watch and never really picks up its pacing, making it hard to fully endorse.

Andrew Garfield came into 2017 getting Oscar buzz for his perspective role in the film, although as the year unfolded it became more and more obvious if he does end up getting an Academy Award nomination it will be for “Hacksaw Ridge.” That doesn’t mean that he is anything short of great here as a physically and emotionally torn priest, a man in a dangerous country trying to do what he knows is right despite the consequences. There are a few instances where his behavior becomes erratic and goofy and sometimes it effectively goes to show how he is slowly losing his sanity, others it is unintentionally humorous.

Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are both solid in somewhat limited roles, both being men who believe in and trust their faith but are much more quick than Garfield to toss out the idea of stopping preaching and going home in order to save themselves. The most interesting character, and frankly the most entertaining part of the film, is Issey Ogata’s leader of Japan’s anti-Christian agenda. He is slimy and smirking and just fascinating to watch and I kept hoping each scene would end with him and Garfield engaging in religious debates.

As I mentioned above, the film is breathtaking to look at. From the waves crashing on a mountainous beach to the jungle-covered villages, the film looks great even when Scorsese’s visual illusions get a little too obvious.

So why is it so hard for me to recommend such a well-acted, stunningly shot film? Well a few things. First off, the narrative isn’t as tight as Scorsese’s previous films and with a 161 minute runtime, it is important to be concise. There isn’t too much of a story arc or flow, scenes just start and end before going on to the next plot point Scorsese wants covered. There is also a character (played by Yōsuke Kubozuka) who continuously comes in and out of the film, doing the same thing over and over to serve Scorsese’s desired analogies, and it becomes laughable and unbelievable that he would continue to run into Garfield and make the same mistakes.

I appreciate the hell out of “Silence” and the jobs done by all parties involved; I just was so drained after watching it and was never was emotionally hooked that it makes it hard to tell you to go spend three hours of your life on it. Like I said at the very beginning of the review my thoughts were tough to put into words about this film, which is rare for me. If you really wanted to see this or are a fan of Scorsese’s works then I’m sure you will get a lot out of this, but a casual moviegoer will probably find it too much of a chore to be worth the journey.

Critics Rating: 6/10

*sidenote: near the end of the film there is a scene that we are supposed to feel sympathy and sadness for a character and the film goes completely silent for emphasis. It was at this exact moment that the screening of “La La Land” next to us started blasting the forever-cheerful song “Another Day of Sun” which made my friend and I chuckle…

Paramount Pictures

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