Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast Headliners: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka
Original Release Date(s): December 25th, 2016 (Limited), (Seen in Wide Release January 2017)
Director Martin Scorsese needs no introduction. The film legend's latest piece, Silence, could be seen as a bit of a departure from the majority of his work. Rather than being set among-st 20th / 21st century North America, it travels farther into the past and farther away. However there is precendence for this through some of his work like The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Scorsese has thus a connection to religion, explored here through an intense lense. Silence is a film that will stay with the viewer in its power.
The movie is set in the 17th century. In Japan, Jesuit priest Father Ferreira(Liam Neeson) has gone missing in a land where Christians and their priests are being brutally persecuted. In Portugal, Father Valignano(Ciarin Hinds in a very momentary but alright or so role) sends the priests and former students of Ferreira in Rodrigues(Andrew Garfield) and Garupe(Adam Driver) to the East to get him back.
The movie is an epic, dramatic sweeping tale across locations and settings. Whether it be in Portugal, China, or of course the vast majority of the rest of the film in Japan each location is meticulously decorated and shot to bring the viewer back in time. The costumes, the details, the ambiance are so effective. Scorsese and his cinematographic team fill shots with beautiful vistas, mysterious fog, and delicate craft and moving into huts or villages and cities. This realism makes things that much more intense in key moments.
So too does the setting feel alive, as do the supporting cast. Aside from the protagonists its logically a mainly Japanese cast. And from the main supporters to random bit players they are great actors for their parts. There's noble people such as their guide Kichijiro(Yosuke Kubozuka, adding some of the film's only humorous and well done bits), or hidden Christians Ichizo(Yoshi Oida) and Mokichi(Shinya Tsukamoto). There's chilling villains, such as the Inquisitor(Issey Ogata, a standout evil and charismatic performance) and the Interpreter(Tadanobu Asano almost equally evil and charismatic). It makes that some of these characters are not so much named or detailed, as its a film about the differences between cultures, languages, and beliefs in part.
The core priest trio has their own plentiful reasons of benefit. Driver's Garupe is actually in the film for less than one would think but is an interesting companion to Garfield's Rodrigues. The writing, for everyone of course as expected, is well written and deep. The two characters have different approaches on what to do, and have different adherence to the faith. One can see a bit of Driver's now-trademark(thanks Kylo Ren) rage here but he plays someone very benevolent if determined. Neeson's Ferreira too is not so much present often but gives a great performance and plays off Garfield well. Especially as the end approaches their relationship is impactful.
Once again, just like the film Hacksaw Ridge from recently, Andrew Garfield's character and performance is the main highlight. Now here more than ever, he reaches a new height of dramatic skill and talent. All characters have believable costumes and accents, but Garfield especially has a believable emotional journey and character arc. His commitment to faith, his drive to complete his quest, his sadness and happiness is all visceral. He has nuance from the deepest religious rhetoric and seriousness to the even manic insanity. One will feel for his character, and even understand with sadness what he has to do and go through. He has come a very long way from Spiderman indeed. One could not ask for many much better than handling the deep religious themes of the film.
The film's plot and narrative flow are epic and fantastic. While there's essentially no action whatsoever, that does not make things any less exciting or darkly intense. There's dramatic faceoffs, torture, and plans. Its perhaps fascinating that for the most part the circumstances(and some of th characters) were real from history. Perhaps a drawback of the film is its one of Scorsese's longest ever. At almost 3 hours, it's a doozy and at parts it can drag a bit with its rhetoric and walking. But one is never not interested in the drive and excitement of the overarching plot, or in its character's growth.
It took Scorsese multiple decades to finally get this film made in his schedule. One can tell that the wait has paid off in its fine cinematic craft and indepth story and real location shots. It's a dark, religious epic that has character struggles that will stay with the viewer afterwards. Its an emotional tour de force, as one would expect and want. 8.78 out of 10