“Silence” Movie Review

Well… that was a pretty heavy movie. This captivating epic historical drama from renowned Hollywood director Martin Scorsese received a limited release on December 23rd, 2016, before expanding in a rollout the following weeks. A passion project that remained in pre-production for nearly 25 years, the $40 million film- based on the novel of the same by Shusaku Endo- finally saw the light of day in its Vatican premiere in late November. Set in the 17th century, a group of young Jesuit priests, Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe, receive word that their mentor, Father Ferriera, has renounced their faith in public while traveling in Japan. This was during a time when Christians were persecuted by the predominantly Buddhist state. Refusing to believe the news, Rodrigues and Garupe travel to the country of Japan in secret on a mission to help any Christian peasants and hopefully save Ferriera from captivity. The first word I said to describe Silence when I walked out of the theater was, “That was powerful.” There were several scenes that were tough to watch, especially regarding when peasants were being persecuted for their beliefs. The only way these people can be let go is if either they step over a fumie, a crudely drawn portrait of Jesus Christ, or spit on a crucifix and called the Virgin Mary a whore. That’s not easy for them; not with all the ideology and practices they’ve come to know over the course of their time worshipping. Leading the cast is Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues, who completely kills it in every scene. I always knew he was a great actor, but this is a fantastic showcase for his talent. He is so transformative in the role. At the beginning, he’s a devout and prideful priest who strongly believes in the word of The Lord. But by the end, he is such a broken soul that he can barely look anyone in the eyes anymore, Christian or otherwise. Right by his side for a good chunk of the movie, Adam Driver shows us that he’s not just an evil Dark Force user like Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. His performance as Father Garupe provides a neat contrast with Rodrigues, as the two frequently bicker over whether or not the Japanese peasants (and subsequently Father Ferriera) can truly be saved. Of the two, Garupe is perhaps the most dedicated and loyal to their cause, which is saying something. For those of you who saw the cast list and expected to see a lot of Liam Neeson kicking ass with his particular set of skills, you may be disappointed to know that he is relegated to a supporting role. But amazingly, this has to be his best post-Taken performance that I’ve seen. A very complicated man, he appears as though he doesn’t want to surrender the Jesuit faith, but is comfortable with his new circumstances. I don’t know if he’s in the movie long enough to qualify, but he definitely seems worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars. The screenplay by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, who previously collaborated together on The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, floods the story and dialogue with many subtle references to scripture. I’m not saying the audience has to be religious in order to enjoy the movie, but those who are will understand and appreciate the story a bit more. And that feeds into my point about the perspectives of this conflict,. and how they’re handled really well. With a movie like this, centered on Christian priests, it could have been very easy to write off the Buddhist hierarchy of Japan as evil, monstrous villains. But it doesn’t. Rather, people on both sides of this battle of faith are portrayed as layered human beings with their own motivations. In fact, the one character in Silence that could be considered a villain, the Inquisitor, is introduced and shown with a nice sense of humor. It may have come naturally from underrated comedian Issey Ogata’s performance as a wry, reasonable, and surprisingly patient leader who wants nothing more than to get the whole ordeal over with as soon as possible. This respect for character perspective also is reflected in the film’s soundtrack; there virtually is none. Katheryn and Kim Allen Kluge bucked the trend of epic orchestral scores in historical dramas and instead allowed the background to be sung mostly by the sound of nature. This is respectful to both the beliefs of Buddhism and the Christian idea that God is with us in nature. The scenery is also utterly stunning and beautiful. Rodrigo Prieto’s keen cinematography is able to capture the scope and nature of 17th century Japan with long shots of the landscapes and villages. It’s debatable whether or not these shots could have been trimmed down a bit, considering the film’s run-time lasts a whopping 2 hours and 41 minutes. However, it never felt that long to me, as it was engaging the whole way through. If you don’t like long movies, then this one could potentially feel like a drag to you at parts. For those who do like long movies, (Like myself) Silence is a worthy addition to Scorsese’s pantheon of classic masterpieces. Arguably his most personal film, it forces the audience to ask serious questions about their faith and the consequences of staying loyal to a potentially dangerous proposition. Ultimately well done.

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