Jake Richardson | 19/12/2016
Overly long and plodding, Scorsese’s 30-years in the making, religion fuelled period piece uses stunning vistas and intense performances from Garfield, Driver and Neeson to achieve a film that is good, but not as good as it should be.
Silence opens in Lisbon, in 1643, on Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds). He is reading a letter from Liam Neeson’s Father Ferreira, who has been in Japan trying to convert people to Christianity for many years. Valignano tells his audience, consisting of Father Garupe (Adam Driver) and Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), that Ferreira has apostatised; repenting his faith in the wake of the Japanese inquisition. He faces a blistering desire from the two young Jesuit priests to go find Ferreira and prove that he is still a staunch preacher, so Valignano reluctantly gives them his blessing to travel to the spoken-about-in-whispers Japan to find the man.
Thus commences Garupe and Rodrigues’s journey to the seemingly mystical land. They first dock in China, where they meet Kichijiro (Yosuke Kuboza), a drunken Japanese sailor who agrees to lead them back to Japan. Upon reaching the Japanese mainland, they find themselves helped by a village of hidden Christians; people who cannot reveal their true faith for fear of retribution from the inquisitor, who is offering 100 pieces of silver for information that leads to the capture of a Christian, and 300 pieces of silver for information that leads to the capture of a Priest.
Garupe and Rodrigues struggle. They hide away during the day, and perform mass in this small village in the evening. They split up so that Rodrigues can visit a new village, and this is where he starts to get more information about Ferreira’s whereabouts. Eventually, the inquisitor hears rumours of their presence and sends his men to investigate. Villagers die, and Garupe and Rodrigues decide to split up in order to spread the word wider, and ostensibly find Ferreira sooner.
Rodrigues is captured, and the third act revolves around his struggle to keep his faith in the face of great suffering and utter silence from his God.Silence is a fairly unique piece in the Scorsese canon. It contains very few of his typical ostentatious camera flourishes. It is more introspective. Certainly, there are a few of the tell-tale signs; the overhead shot of the three Jesuit priests walking down a marble staircase, or the quick zoom out as Rodrigues crashes to his knees in the forest spring to mind. But for the most part the camera-work is more restrained.
This restraint is mirrored in the score. Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge’s score is a beautifully minimalist one which blends natural elements with Japanese musical cues to create an environment of constant, underplayed tension that fits extremely well with the plot.The cinematography of Silence is spectacular. Rodrigo Prieto frames the fantastic landscape of Japan in such a way that it is wrenchingly beautiful and foreboding at the same time.
Aside from strong technical proficiencies, Silence really thrives on its’ performances. Adam Driver is terse and restrained as Garupe. He portrays Garupe with a deontological fervour that sees his knee jerk reaction to apostatising as one of outright refusal. His mannerisms covey a man who is fervently in support of finding a lost Jesuit brother, but also willing to abandon the cause even on a hint that Ferreira has apostatised. To him, to not follow the Jesuit rule of law to the letter is to immediately lose all respect in his eyes. Conversely, Neeson’s Ferreira is a man whose passion and fire have been snuffed out; he is a shell.
While both Driver’s and Neeson’s performances are commendable, it is really Garfield and Kubozuka’s show. Kybozuka plays Kichijiro, a wretch of a human being incapable of consistent, dedicated faith, who is also struggling with the result of that lack of dedication. He is pitiful, enlightened, and understandable all at once in the way that Kubozuka plays him. You are never quite sure what exactly he is up to, and that is a testament to the actors performance. Garfield blows his Hacksaw Ridge performance out of the water here (you haven’t even see it). Scorsese focuses on Rodrigues, a priest who isn’t as strict as Garupe when it comes to deontology; well, at least not on other Christians – he is very strict on himself. His fervour is portrayed with skill by Garfield. In the young actors hands, Garupe is a man full of conflicting emotions about his own God – particularly when confronted with the atrocities he witnesses in Japan. Every gaze, or shout, or bout of hysterical laughter, is believable.
Despite the strong performances, there are some negatives to Silence. It is a brutal watch, with Christians killed in a myriad of horrific ways. Scorsese seems wont to rely on narration throughout the piece, and in many ways this isn’t a bad thing. However, at times in the 2 hour 40 minute movie it does grate. Indeed, the running time is also a point of issue. Silence is incredibly long, and at times it feels like the build-up isn’t really necessary.
We spend an incredibly long first act with the two Jesuit priests in a small village, preaching. This could have been shortened, given that it seems to add very little to the plot.
Too long and cerebral for the typical moviegoer, Silence is nonetheless a beautiful, affecting piece of work from one of cinema’s great directors. With a perfect score, intense performances, and impactful cinematography, Silence will feed the inner-film-buff in you.