Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano
Director: Martin Scorsese
Running Time: 161 mins
Silence is an American film about the story of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th Century, in the hope of finding another lost priest who has apparently fallen victim to the brutal techniques used by the Japanese to force those bringing the word of Christianity to give up their faith.
The great thing about Silence is that it’s something different. Rather than seeing Scorsese make Goodfellas for the fifth time, it’s always brilliant to see him push himself and try something a little out of his comfort zone. On the whole, he succeeds with Silence, providing a powerfully atmospheric and deeply interesting look at the nature of faith and humanity, as well as a fascinating historical period. With excellent direction and cinematography throughout, as well as brilliant performances, it’s a compelling film, albeit a long and often tiring watch.
Let’s start with Scorsese. This film has long been a passion project of his, apparently going back over 25 years, and you can see just that in the depth that he provides us with here. Above all, Scorsese does a brilliant job at making the hostile Japanese lands feel dangerous, through slow building of tension punctuated by a few short bursts of intense drama.
The film also looks absolutely breathtaking. From some of the eerie and misty shots of the hell-like coastlines to the cramped locations the priests find themselves in as they attempt to evade the eyes of the Japanese trying to bring in all Christians, there’s so much to take in as far as the visuals go, making this probably Scorsese’s most artistically thrilling film to date.
Another key element to the film is the performances. Andrew Garfield stars in the lead role, a priest deeply committed to his faith and desire to find a father who has been beaten down by the Japanese. His performance is fantastic from start to finish, and his ability to show his character’s deep emotional distress at some of the film’s most challenging moments, as he confronts the possibility of losing his faith, or even seeing it disproved, was amazing to see.
Alongside Garfield is Adam Driver. Playing second fiddle for most of the film, his character definitely doesn’t have the same emotional depth and intrigue as Garfield’s. However, what Driver does do well is cement the idea of the Christian persecution, as his character struggles through some even harder moments than Garfield’s, reinforcing the notion that the two are in desperate hiding, and losing the strength to keep their faith.
Now, things start to get a little more complicated when it comes to the film’s story. The historical context of this film is absolutely fascinating, looking at feudal Japan in a completely different way to any Hollywood production before it. What’s more is that Scorsese’s deep exploration of religion and faith, something he’s often looked at in previous films, comes through stronger than ever before in Silence, and features some powerfully pensive and intelligent moments relating to the topic.
We know how well Scorsese can tell a story, and Silence is no exception. It’s utterly fascinating, and in tandem with his brilliant direction and the fantastic performances, it’s a hugely compelling watch from start to finish.
However, watching this film is hard work. Its 161 minute runtime is daunting at first, but it becomes even more epic when you realise how slow the pacing here is. It’s justified, given the film’s very deep and reflective themes, and I can safely say that any attempt to speed it up would have hurt it.
And whilst there’s nothing about the film that I felt was wholly unnecessary, just prolonging the runtime, I have to say that I didn’t quite get the emotional payoff that I wanted after 161 minutes. The way the story begins and ends is very interesting, but as far as feeling a deep emotional connection to the film goes, I felt a little disappointed after such a long runtime, and that made the film feel a lot longer and more tiring to watch for me.
Overall, however, Silence is an excellent film. Expertly crafted by director Martin Scorsese, bringing a new sort of story to life in a fascinating historical context, and full of deep and pensive themes, the film is a gripping watch. Its performances are fantastic as well, and help to deliver the best of the film’s emotional power. However, it is a long and slow film, and it does feel tiring at times, and the payoff isn’t always quite as strong as I felt it could be after so long, which is why I’m giving Silence a 7.8.