Silence Review: Martin Scorsese On Form In What Remains A Test Of Faith

Martin Scorsese’s latest is definitely one for the purists rather than wider public.

Liam Neeson in Silence
Liam Neeson In Silence

159 minutes (15)

It’s taken Martin Scorsese 26 years to get Silence made and while the results are cinematically spell-binding, the story itself remains a true test of faith in every sense of the word.

Set in a beautifully rendered 17th century Japan, the focus falls on of priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), and their quest to locate mentor and fellow man of the cloth Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

Traversing the country’s breath-taking landscape, the pair are on a mission to discover if Ferreira truly has done the unthinkable and committed apostasy, the renouncing of religion. All the while they must survive in a country where Christianity is a belief punishable by death or torture.

Adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, it stands as the third and final film in Scorsese’s unofficial “religious” trilogy, following on from The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun and if you are familiar with either of those films, the chances are you will know what to expect here.

Impeccably shot and faithful to the unsettling source material, as an adaptation and comment on faith, it’s almost perfect, with Scorsese’s own exploration of religion coming to the fore alongside the original text.

Japan has never looked more alluring, full of glorious flora and fauna alongside authentically muddy villages and town houses that house a mix of the faithful and the vengeful.

But with a running time of two hours and 39 minutes, it is at times a torturous experience, with the original text’s penchant for dwelling on matters of faith translating into long scenes of self-reflection on the part of Garfield, who emerges as the film’s main protagonist.

Across the board, the performances are strong. However, as is often the case, the use of accents (Portuguese in this instance) proves slightly problematic. Driver appears to nail his almost perfectly, Garfield flits in and out of it and Neeson is just plain old Neeson.

But Scorsese does create a largely engaging, if overlong, tale. While the first hour of Garfield and Driver’s adventures move by relatively quickly in what is a sombre film, the final 40 minutes feels almost unnecessary, with events lurching towards a predictable end.

Question marks also remain at to whether Garfield is the right actor to hold much of the film together with the arguably more capable Driver and Neeson sidelined and away from the action for much of the running time.

Ultimately though, the viewer’s perception of the film could boil down to their attitudes towards religious faith.

Andrew Garfield The right man for the job?

If you find the idea of these priests staying strong and faithful to their God in the face of scenes of horrendous torture moving or inspiring, then it’s a powerful picture indeed. But if you doubt the power of God and question man’s willingness to sacrifice life for an unknown entity, it could come off as pious.

More importantly, this may be Scorsese’s least accessible film since Kundun, meaning audiences expecting the kind of blood and thunder seen in Wolf of Wall Street or Shutter Island could be left disappointed.

There will and have been plenty of critics who have been head over heels with praise for Silence but to loaded’s way of thinking, a similar approach would be misleading to our readers.

Martin Scorsese has crafted a beautiful film which is thought provoking on matters of faith and history. It’s well acted and perfect crafted in almost every single way. But it’s subject matter and source material make it a difficult and not entirely accessible watch for the average cinemagoer – including us.

Those accents hardly help either.

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