Silence (2017) – Review

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata

This review is spoiler free!

The Overview
In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism. (Source: IMDb)

The Good
There’ll always be a high amount of expectation for a new movie from legendary director, Martin Scorsese, but with Silence being somewhat of a passion project for him, expectations were likely to be even higher. Supposedly Scorsese had spent 20 years trying to get his vision of Shusako Endo’s novel green-lit.

Silence could be seen as somewhat of a spiritual (in more ways than one!) successor to Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and is about as far away from his last directorial film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) as is humanly possible.

One of the highest compliments you could pay to Silence is that it doesn’t feel like a Scorsese film. Sure, it has the masterful deftness that the esteemed director is fabled for, but visually and tonally, it is rather different from what Scorsese aficionados might be used to. However, the fact that at 74 years old, he can continue to innovate and deliver something different, is astounding.  

Silence is rather a difficult film to unpack; it is thematically incredibly rich, and admittedly it won’t suit all tastes, but at the same time, there is an awful lot to appreciate. It is an incredibly immersive experience, atmospheric, somber, brooding, and subtle. Natural elements (water, fire, earth) are used to great effect, giving it a naturalistic edge which helps to bridge the gap for the audience in places where the story could seem quite alienating. 

The sound design is immaculate, rather fittingly using silence to its best advantage, yet also knowing when to focus on a particular subtle noise or tone. It has an almost other-worldly feel, the score is barely recognisable, and instead the rich soundscapes of nature provide the backdrop for the dramatic storytelling.

Whilst grand and epic in scale, Scorsese also pinpoints when to focus on the human emotion, which is an important aspect of a story which in so many ways feels strange and isolating. At the centre of this human emotion is an astounding performance from Andrew Garfield. It is a difficult, demanding, and varied role, which he is able to pull off incredibly well; most effectively when the lines of sanity become increasingly blurred for his character. Liam Neeson and Adam Driver are also excellent in their roles; the former is very much a supporting part, but Neeson still does a wonderful job. This is however very much Garfield’s story, and he completely steals the show. 

The Bad
It is the nature of the story, and the tone of the film, but there are moments which do drag slightly, and it is slightly frustrating when the end point is difficult to see. However, it should still be applauded for its grand ambition, and indeed it gets far more right than it does wrong.

The Verdict
I saw this movie and you should too. Whilst I fully accept this film will not be for all tastes, if a brooding, slow-burner of a film, with a strong focus on characters is what you’re looking for, then Silence will be right up your street. It is ambitious, rich in depth, gorgeously shot, and has some terrific performances. Thematically it is quite a difficult film to take in, and it might need a couple of watches, but Silence proves Scorsese has still got it, but also that he still isn’t afraid to take a new direction, and this absolutely makes it worth a watch. 

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