WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
When I heard that Martin Scorsese had a new film coming out, I was pretty surprised that I heard almost nothing about the project. Scorsese is one of those directors that you already know when his next film is hitting theaters whether you know anything else about the project or not. Then I discovered why the promotion was so hushed about this project and it was mostly due to the subjective matter and the fact this was a passion project for the director. Silence is a film that he has worked to make for almost 3 decades. Now the last passion project I watched that took over 3 decades to make was Rules Don’t Apply so the bar was pretty low by comparison. I decided to give this film a look and it did not disappoint but it is a hard one to recommend and here’s why.
Silence begins as a story of two 17th century Jesuit priests Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) who insist on traveling from Portugal to Japan to find their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Nelson) who has been accused of betraying his faith. The two priests believe that it would be impossible for Ferreira to commit apostasy and decide to find out the truth themselves against the best advice. Being Christian in Japan is punishable by death so this would be an extremely dangerous mission if they were to be caught. During their mission to Japan, they meet various villagers who practice Christianity in secret. Their mission becomes more treacherous as the priest’s faith faces the ultimate test with not just their lives but the lives of the villagers on the line.
The best way I’ve heard this movie described is an experience rather than a movie. Much like La La Land, you marvel more at the technical aspects of the film rather than the script. If you read my top 10 best films of 2016, I ranked Hacksaw Ridge the #1 film of the year and the similarities between that and this movie is pretty interesting. Andrew Garfield who stars in both movies is a man of deep Christian faith struggling to survive in Japan. While the enemy this time around aren’t as bloodthirsty as in Hacksaw, they aren’t any less cruel if not more so.
The film features scenes of slow and painful human torture as the Japanese forces punish those who refuse to abandon their Christian beliefs. The biggest emotional struggle that Sebastião deals within the film is continuing his religious quest in the light of villagers being sentenced to brutal deaths around him. This quest leads him and the audience to a crossroad when he comes to the realization that the only way to truly save the people he needs to protect is through apostasy. While the violence in the film isn’t the most physically disturbing we have seen in his films, it is the most emotionally disturbing as the film sucks you into the world of these poor people and you feel everything they do. Only someone with Scorsese’s brilliant direction could pull that off. There is also a display of an eternal debate between Christianity and Buddism as many aspects of their beliefs are debated in a thought provoking and clever way. I have to say, I was not a fan of Andrew Garfield especially watching the Amazing Spiderman movies but after seeing him in Silence and Hacksaw Ridge this year, I’ve taken a complete 180 on him. He may not receive award recognition because of Hollywood’s love affair with La La Land this year but boy he deserves it because he has had a hell of a year with those two performances in 2016.
Silence is about as intense of a moviegoing experience as you can get. The cinematography is dark and fits the tone of the film. The overall message is one that once again is up to the viewer to decide. The topic of religion is one that gets the usual suspects on both sides but 2016 has been a great year for Faith-based movies with Hacksaw Ridge, I’m Not Ashamed, and now Silence. Martin Scorsese great direction and vision puts this film over the top. Silence isn’t for everyone but for film purists, it’s one of the most emotional films of the last few years.
OFFICIAL RATING: *****
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