Thursday, April 27, 2017

Movie Review: SILENCE (2016) Starring Andrew Garfield


Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Ciarán Hinds, Yoshi Oida, Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Runtime: 161 min
Rating: R for some disturbing violent content
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

Althought primarily famous for crime dramas like "Goodfellas", "Casino", or "The Departed", Martin Scorsese is a much more diverse filmmaker than some give him credit for. Apart from exploring the inner workings of the criminal underworld, he has also tackled pretty much every genre available, and even dabbled in films that don't fit one particular genre. Through his artistry, even films that seemed generic at first glance became much more. With "Silence", it was finally time for Scorsese to complete his long-time passion project.

The film is based on the 1966 novel of the same name written by Shusaku Endo, and has been in developement for over 25 years. Faith is a theme that has long fascinated Scorsese, and while many of his films carry religious undertones to varying degrees, the first more explicit exploration of faith came with his 1988 film "The Last Temptation of Christ", another one of his passion projects that took a long time to make and come to fruition. Not as Catholic, but no less spiritual was his 1997 film "Kundun", which followed Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama from childhood through the Chinese invasion and eventual exile. "Silence", however, is Scorsese's most personal film, a meditation on the roots of faith and its clash with the secular world.

Silence Movie Image 1

The story follows Rodrigues and Garupe, two Portuguese Jesuit priests played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, who travel to Japan in the 1600s to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is rumored to have renounced his faith and is now living as a Japanese, wife and all. The problem is that the 17th century was not a friendly time for Christianity in Japan, as missionaries were being supressed by the shogunate and anyone who adhered to their teachings was brutally tortured and killed if they chose not to apostatize. The Christian doctrine was deemed dangerous to the state, so the two priests are no less than enemies of the state. The brutal reaction of the Japanese authorities forced Catholics to develop secret practices that allowed them to continue in their devotion. They became known as Kakure Kirishitans (Hidden Christians).

It's also worth mentioning that the disappearance of Father Ferreira is a historically accurate event. Cristovao Ferreira was a missionary in Japan between 1609 and 1633 and also a head Jesuit, the superior of all Jesuit missionaries. He was the first to renounce his faith under torture. For more information regarding the true story behind the book and film, check out this article.

Silence Movie Image 2

The film's main focus is on Rodrigues, played to perfection by Garfield, and throughout the film we, the audience, bear witness to his inner turmoil as he undergoes a series of trials and tribulations at the end of which he may find himself losing his faith. It's a powerful premise that allows for a careful examination of Scorsese's favorite topic, faith, as well as of the conflict that occurs when two different cultures collide and whether or not it is even possible to mix such wildly different cultures through missionary work. It's a strongly interiorized film and that's where its strength lies, because when its themes begin to resonate with the viewer, who are meant to identify with Rodrigues and his crisis of faith, that's when it develops one hell of an emotional punch.

There is certainly a lot to take in and it's not a film that will appeal to many. Those unwilling to participate in the film's philosophical ponderings will most likely not enjoy it. It's also quite long at 2 hours and 30 minutes, which coupled with the slow pace might prove to be too much to endure. It may also have been falsely perceived as a historical epic, which it most certainly is not. Its tone is far too intimate to qualify as "epic", and there are no "set pieces" to speak of. Although for some movies that would be enough to knock down its score, "Silence" is not one of those movies, as Scorsese makes deliberate choices both in tone and pacing that work beautifully, but only if you can get into its dark groove.

Silence Movie Image 4

If you're worried about the levels of violence, as the film is rated R for some "disturbing violent content", you should know that this is not "The Passion of the Christ". There are scenes of torture, and one beheading, but it's not all about the violence, nor does it display copious amounts of gore like Mel Gibson's film. The torture portrayed in the film is mostly focused on a strong psychological effect, rather than gore. Still, it does qualify as "disturbing", so I recommend caution for those who generally avoid violence in movies.

Historically, there's a lot of attention to detail, and the production values are incredible, making it look more like a $100 million production than one that actually cost a mere $40 million. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is responsible for much of its visual beauty, an effort that was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination this year, the only one that the film managed to obtain, being largely and undeservedly overlooked by all major awards in 2017.

As I said, Garfield was excellent, and even though he didn't get any nominations for this role, he did get Oscar recognition for "Hacksaw Ridge" this year, so that's something. His work in "Silence" is more subtle than his Hacksaw role, and therefore not as likely to impress, but it's still a significant evolution for the actor that should be acknowledged. Driver and Neeson are fine, but they don't get much screen time. The Japanese actors, however, were truly fantastic, especially Yosuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro, a fascinating character whose relationship with Rodrigues is the most complex element of this story.

Silence Movie Image 3

For me, personally, this film makes a great companion to other films that share some of its themes, like "The Mission" and "Agora", two favorites of mine. While the former followed the struggles of Jesuit priests doing missionary work and tackled themes like redemption and the clash between the spiritual and the secular, the latter portrayed the spread of Christianity through 4th century Roman Egypt and paints a rather unflattering picture of the more negative effects of religion and indoctrination. Examining these three movies together would make for quite a terrific debate.

Overall, I enjoyed the dark, brooding "Silence", both for its meaty ideas and its original look into a troubled moment in history. While it takes a bit of effort to fully grasp what Scorsese is looking to uncover with this story, once the full picture comes into view, it's a rewarding and powerful experience.



  • Powerful story examines faith and religion in a troubled historical context
  • Great acting from Andrew Garfield and the Japanese cast
  • Scorsese's assured direction successfully navigates the story's many complexities
  • Beautiful cinematography and top notch production values

  • Some might not enjoy the film due to its length, slow pace and brooding tone.



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