Martin Scorsese is held in high esteem as one of the greatest living directors (2017, please be more generous to our artists than your predecessor). He has directed multiple classic films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas (my personal favorite mobster movie), Gangs of New York, The Departed, Shutter Island (my personal favorite film of his), Hugo, and most recently The Wolf of Wallstreet (my personal least favorite film of his). Scorsese specializes in two things: character driven storylines, and the use of sound, be it music or silence (oh hey! dats da name of this movie!). His films feature strong characters that often find themselves in situations that require them to make life altering decisions. That might sound common, but Scorsese is a master at character development. He is also well known for the music that he chooses in his movie, as well as how carefully he plans moments of complete silence or pauses in dialogue (here is an Every Frame a Painting video that specifically talks about his use of silence). Looking at this list of well-known films, one can probably deduce that his films seem to follow similar themes of troubled minds living in big cities.
Silence is an obvious break from this theme. It takes place in mid-17th century Japan and follows two Catholic Missionaries from Portugal on their journey through a land known for its hostility against Christians. This is a totally new direction for Scorsese, but he has insisted that this story is the one he’s been wanting to tell since he first began his legendary career in the film industry. Needless to say, with this information, the entirety of the cinema world has been anticipating the release of this film since its announcement. So, did the film live up to its hype?
I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but this film is definitely not for the faint of heart. If it’s any indication to the depravity of the actions made against people in this film, I can say that Liam Neeson probably got this job because of his role in Schindler’s List (though he is not in the film for very long). Scorsese opens the story with brutal acts in order to set the stakes high from the very beginning. Though the film is paced slowly, the stakes are always underneath the rest of the story, telling you that horrible things are going to happen at any moment.
I opened with this because it was my biggest, and probably only critique of the story. While Scorsese still proves himself to be a master of character development, I had a hard time becoming truly invested in the character’s precisely because the stakes are set so high against them. From the very beginning, I knew terrible things would happen to them, so I chose not to commit my emotions to them. This was at least true for the entire first half of the film, especially for the large number of secondary characters.
Despite this, Scorsese still has a compelling and deeply touching story to tell through these characters. If you’re like me, and he failed to draw you into them in the first half, then you will be drawn in by the start of the latter half whether you like it or not. The entire last hour of this film had me on the edge of my seat, guessing what could happen next and where Scorsese was going with this tale of pure human savagery.
Andrew Garfield, the half-jock, half-nerd, half-douche, half-Brit (that last part is actually true, by the way; don’t fall for his dapper accent too hard) who was somehow given the role of Peter Parker in the worst Spiderman movies to date, continues to surprise everyone with his tremendous acting talents. At first, I was skeptical about his talent, but I quickly realized that my skepticism was only due to the somewhat sluggish pace of this film’s first 30-or-so minutes. As the heat turns up, so does Garfield, and he really nailed this role.
The same goes for the plethora of side/secondary characters played by a host of Japanese actors (Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, and Yosuke Kubozuka are 3 that really stood out) that were absolutely outstanding despite their somewhat minor roles in the film.
Adam Driver, the new hero of the Star Wars series (if you’re an Imperial Sympathizer like myself, that is) is also pretty good in his role as the… missionary sidekick? He’s actually not that important to the story so don’t worry about him too much.
Liam Neeson disappears for two hours, so don’t expect a stellar performance from him.
Scorsese really finds ways to tear your emotions in this film. He uses tons of wide shots that feature beautiful Japanese countryside or architecture, only to rip the natural beauty of the scene away from you because someone is literally burning alive in the middle of the frame. If you’re a sucker for nature shots and have to turn your head away from violence, then prepare your mind for what’s sure to be an epic battle of “do I look, or do I not look???”.
All things said and done, this is the best filmed movie that I’ve seen all year, which I fully expected from a veteran of Scorsese’s caliber. For that, I salute you, sir. Your legacy lives on.
Scorsese took the minimalist route when it comes to a score for this film; which I still can’t decide if I’m surprised about that or not. Scorsese is famous for his music choices, but the film is called “Silence“…
Either way, I gave this section a high score precisely because how Scorsese implements sound in this film, especially silence, and ESPECIALLY narration (this isn’t a spoiler, but pay close attention for shifts in character narration).
X-Factor: 8/10, Scorsese surprised me with the ending [Mild Spoiler]
I was totally unaware that Scorsese had any religious affiliations, so I was wondering how this film was going to end. He surprised me. As a Christian, I loved the ending of the last twenty minutes of this film. It really made me think hard and deep about… I’ll shut my mouth. That’s all you’re getting out of me. No spoilers!
I fully suspect that Silence will be a contender for the prestigious Best Film award at the Oscars, and it will probably earn him his 2nd Oscar for Achievement in Directing (yes, I was also surprised to learn that he has only received one award out of the eight times he’s been nominated), though he will have some stiff competition from Damien Chazelle if the Golden Globes are any indication of how the Academy Awards might play out. If you are someone who loves cinema, then I would highly recommend going to see this film before it is taken out of theaters (it isn’t doing so hot box-office-wise) to make room for the garbage heap of half-assed and over-budgeted January films.
Post-Oscar Nominations Update:
As many of you may have seen by now, the Academy recently released their nominations in an attempt to make me – personally – look like a damned idiot. Silence received only a nomination for Achievment in Cinematography, and not one for Best Picture or Directing like I said it would. Once again, the Academy has shown that they are either idiots or that they are totally out to get me. I imagine them sitting in their posh black-leather chairs now, leaning back and taking a sip of their cocktail as they smile to themselves at the thought of how stupid they think I must look now.