Movie Review -- Scorsese's 'Silence' Will Leave You Speechless
Posted by Jason Ingolfsland on Friday, January 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM By Jason Ingolfsland / January 13, 2017 Comment
Silence has been on Martin Scorsese’s back-burner for a long time, continually putting it off for other projects since the 1990s. At this point, it’s an understatement to call it a passion project as much as an obsession. It’s a movie he is adamant to get right. After reading the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, I was skeptical Scorsese could pull it off, considering the novel’s formal literary style in contrast to the famous director's usual informal flair and unconventionality. I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong. He takes a totally different approach, moving away from his comfort zone and succeeds at faithfully adapting and honoring a beautiful novel. By the end, the emotional weight of this film will leave you speechless. Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese and directed by Scorsese, Silence is set in the seventeenth century and follows two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan to find their lost mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) and try to keep the struggling underground church from crumbling under the brutal persecution of Inquisitor Inoue. Though I’m sure Scorsese would want the film to be judged entirely based upon its own merits, I think it’s important to view it in light of the novel. Adaptations from novel to film are difficult because both mediums tell stories differently. Novels tend to take their time while film demands action and consistent pacing. To his credit, Scorsese stays true to the novel, sticking close to the characters and plot points, but doesn’t get lost in the weeds of the book, taking what he needs to make a strong cinematic experience and leaving the rest out. This turns out to be a double-edged sword. The slow pacing tests the audience patience, but Scorcese keeps things interesting by plunging you into the heart of Japanese Christian persecution, not shying away from its awful brutality. While the plot greatly hinges on finding Ferreira, it’s easy to forget with the several subplots that pop up following the priests’ journey. Regrettably, amidst the wonderful artistry within the film, a horrible miscast character is found in Liam Neeson’s pathetic and half-baked portrayal of Father Ferreira. While Neeson does well during the quieter scenes, showing a grieved man pushed to his wit's end – it’s when he speaks that the house of cards falls apart. From the beginning, Garfield and Driver are intent on capturing the full embodiment of their characters including a Portuguese accent. Neeson, on the other hand, doesn’t feel this is necessary, talking more like Bryan Mills from Taken. Perhaps it’s a small critique but the scenes between Neeson and Garfield don’t do so well. Ferreira is Portuguese after all and it would only make sense Neeson would have an accent. It strips the high authenticity away when a high caliber actor like Neeson doesn’t stick to his character’s nationality or at least follow his counterparts lead. It makes me wonder if Neeson either didn’t care or couldn’t pull off the accent. That aside, Neeson still disappoints with a performance that should have been pivotal but comes across as a footnote overshadowed by Garfield’s superior acting. Perhaps not since The Mission has there been a quality masterpiece about Christian missionaries. Silence excels at almost everything it sets out to achieve including gorgeous cinematography, powerful acting and an adaptation that sticks to the core of the novel. Above all, Silence points to relevant themes on man’s cruelty, man’s faithlessness, but also man’s vigilant hope in the face of persecution. While it's not for the faint of heart, it certainly is worth the journey.