Ah vanity projects, don’t you just love them? Scorsese actually has previous with these having done The Last Temptation of Christ back in 1988, Gangs of New York in 2002 and Hugo in 2011. This particular project has taken Scorsese a long time to bring to the big screen, was it worth the wait?
Scorsese’s 28-year pet project, based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, has already spawned two movies: Silence in 1971 by director Masahiro Shinoda and The Eyes of Asia in 1996. Despite this, Scorsese and fellow screenwriter Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York, De-Lovely), decided to tackle it again in their own imitable fashion.
Silence stars Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Girls) as Rodrigues and Garupe respectively. Two Catholic missionaries who travel to Japan to search for their mentor Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls, Taken 2) who has gone missing whilst preaching Catholicism at a time when it was outlawed in Japan.
Silence is long, there’s no way round this, it comes in at close to three-hours and it feels like three hours. The first hour actually moves pretty quickly. This time is spent with Garfield and Driver as they arrive in Japan and encounter their first Christians who are overjoyed to finally have some padre’s back with them. They also learn that the authorities are not keen on Christians or Christianity and are prepared to go to some dramatic lengths to stop it growing.
The Japanese methods include: nicking you behind the ear and then hanging you upside down in a sort of straight jacket so that you bleed to death, but not too quickly. The nick strategic enough to stop the blood rushing to your head. If they don’t fancy that then they will wrap you in a matt and burn you alive, or wrap you in a matt and drown you. Sometimes you can escape this fate by placing your foot on a cast of Jesus, their way of renouncing him, other times that’s not enough.
Tadanobu Asano (Thor, Ichi the Killer) plays an interpreter and Issei Ogata (A One and a Two, The Sun) plays the Inquisitor, the man who is tasked with stopping Christianity in Japan. Both actors are wonderful, Asano in particular stands out as he flicks between friendly interpreter and, not-quite-so friendly interpreter.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said of our two lead actors. Before I began watching Silence I was a little taken aback with the casting of Garfield and Driver (apparently, it was originally going to be Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro), it’s not that their bad actors, it just seemed an odd fit. My initial thoughts were right I’m sorry to say. At the very least I would have put Driver as the main protagonist. His portrayal is much more honest, much rawer than Garfield who, with his boyish looks and hair that gets bigger in each scene, just doesn’t fit that well with the movie.
You don’t get to see Neeson that much and the scenes he is in I half expect him to draw a sword and begin slaying people. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Liam Neeson action films.
The message with Silence, is that god is silent or that we are unable to hear him…I’m not quite sure. Rodrigues does get to hear him at some points through the film as a voice in his head. This is an odd ‘twist’, though not as odd as when he’s looking in some water and we see a mobile phone style face swap between himself and Jesus. That’s extremely odd. Also odd is this mist that sometimes appears, mostly in the first half of the film. At times Scorsese uses it to great effect and other times less so.
Speaking of the great man himself, the directing is, as you’d expect, nothing short of stunning. Some of the shots that are pulled off by Scorsese are beautiful. It’s amazing to watch the film just for this alone. Rodrigo Prieto (Passengers, The Wolf of Wall Street) does a fantastic job with the cinematography too, there are some fantastic location shots.
I can’t claim to have been wowed by Silence. I’m not a religious man by any stretch and so do wonder if part of it was just lost on me for that reason. I was angered by the audacity of Garfield’s character trying to tell a native, in his own country, why he should be bringing another religion to these shores. I was annoyed by them claiming that death is god hearing suffering and providing an answer. But, mostly, I was enthralled by the beautiful directing, intrigued by the occasional silences on the soundtrack and bored by the story overall.