Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida
Written by Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese and (based on the novel) Shûsaku Endô
Running Time: 161 mins
Release date: 1st January 2017
Martin Scorsese’s name attached to any project is enough to know that what you are going to get is quality and not just some throwaway fluff. Silence is a magnificent epic in every sense of the word that Scorsese has been planning for years to film. It is quality filmmaking that you would expect from such a master of cinema, and yet it is a gruelling journey that will leave you both breathless and drained.
Seventeenth-century Japan and two Jesuit priests are sent from Portugal to find their mentor who has disappeared during an upheaval where the Japanese Buddhist have taken priests to denounce their love of God. Arriving, they are kept hidden away by Christian villagers but their hiding place doesn’t last long and soon the men are separated and captured by the Inquisitor, a man desperate for one priest, Father Sebastiao Rodrigues, to turn his back on his faith.
As the title suggests, this is a film that relies on the quieter moments to engulf the drama. Starting with the sound of nature, leading into a sequence where priests are being tortured doesn’t sit right and yet it makes the opening sequence such a shocking and powerful one. The film is littered with these moments, where the eerieness of the silences are broken by scenes to shake the viewer up.
Rodrigo Prieto’s stunning cinematography makes these scenes even more breathtaking. A scene where villagers are crucified in the ocean, with the hope that they will drown from the rising tide, is both horrific and beautiful at the same time. It’s a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, like the epics of old, as every inch of the frame is used to marvellous effect.
Where the film does falter is the running time. At 161 minutes it might scare those fearful of long movies but Scorsese manages to make the story gripping enough to forget the length. There is the occasional scene that does outstay its welcome but that can be forgiven when the rest of the film is so well made.
The performances as you would expect, are terrific. Yôsuke Kubozuka is most notable as the cowardly guide who keeps informing the Buddhists where the priests are. Andrew Garfield gives a well-pitched underplayed performance as Rodrigues and it’s a real pleasure to see Liam Neeson back doing what he does best, which is act without punching someone’s head in. As the tormented Ferreira, the priest the men go hunting for, he brilliantly portrays a man torn between his Christian background and the life he has made for himself.
Silence is an impeccably made drama that has plenty to say about religion and belief. So much so that it could lead to a heated debate. At the heart is a strong epic from a filmmaker who knows his art and knows how to deliver solid storytelling and exquisite imagery. A film that needs to be experienced in the cinema, where the silence can really be deafening.