We live in a world in which a brand new Martin Scorsese film starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson opened in wide release alongside The Bye Bye Man and The Bye Bye Man made almost seven times as much money. Over the past few weeks, Silence has made roughly five million dollars. A Dog’s Purpose made that much in a single day. You probably didn’t even know that this movie was released. There were very few trailers and overall very little word of mouth. It was nominated for a solemn, solitary Oscar and none in any of the major categories. Most theaters pulled this film from their screens after two weeks due to stark lack of interest? It is for this reason that I am writing this post. Before it ultimately gets forgotten, you need to know what you missed out on. And what you missed was one of the most brilliant films made in recent years.
I saw this film last weekend, but have waited until now to write this review. As I’ve waited, I’ve let my thoughts mull over and have contemplated one simple question. Is this film really brilliant? Or am I simply hoping that it is because it’s made by one of the most famous directors to ever live? The answer? Slap any director’s name in front of this film and it remains truly great. Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests in the 17th century who are traveling to the remote and dangerous Japan to combat the religious persecution that riddled the country at the time and spread their religious message. What becomes of this plot is a slow, serious, completely un-thrilling film. And it’s absolutely fantastic.
It seems to be a reality that “slow” has kind of become a dirty word in the moviegoing community. But this is a true injustice because slow doesn’t always have to mean boring. In the case of films like Silence, slow is the only way to tell the story. Silence is about two hours and forty minutes but it floats by like a dream. There are long sequences where nobody says a word, but you’re captivated by the emotion on the character’s faces and the beauty of the film’s cinematography. Rodrigo Prieto was the DP on this film and painted the celluloid canvas with some truly incredible shots. Japan is captured in an irrefutably breathtaking manner that will go so far as to make your eyes well with tears at how gorgeous it is. While this film deserved countless Oscar nominations, if it had to only get nominated for one, I am more than pleased that it received it for Cinematography. Yes, the imagery is beautiful, you’ve seen beautiful imagery before. But what you haven’t experienced before is this film’s score. “Score” might not be the best word for this phenomenon because this film includes no music. At least not in the traditional sense. The score of this film was composed by Kim Allen and Kathryn Kluge according to Scorsese’s instructions to occupy the film’s atmosphere with the sounds of music. What was produced was an entrancing orchestra comprising a lyrical masterpiece composed of cicada calls and ocean sounds that subliminally enchants the viewer. It’s honestly unlike anything else.
Character-Driven dramas like Silence are nothing without great characters. And great characters are nothing without great actors behind them. This is what pushes Silence past the mark of just good and into great territory. For Scorsese can sit in the director chair all day, but without a skilled group of actors in front of the camera, his vision won’t be realized to its full extent. The characters in this film are very, very well realized. They’re admirable people with realistic flaws that create living breathing people that feel straight out of the 1600’s. The ensemble that makes up this film is full of lively and committed individuals that really help to elevate its caliber. It’s great to see a film set in Japan full of genuinely Japanese actors. Silence offers multiple talented Japanese actors in its ancillary roles including the genius Issei Ogata as the inquisitor, Shin’ya Tsukamoto as the faithful Mokichi and, in a career-making role, Yôsuke Kubozuka as the dishonorable Kichijiro. The Western actors are none to ignore either. Liam Neeson reveals himself as the veteran actor he is and Adam Driver is once again exhibited as one of the best actors working today. But where the real power of this film resides is in its star.
From time to time a genuinely stellar actor will sign a contract that shackles their abilities down to a corporatized role. For a majority of this decade, that was the tragic fate of Mr. Andrew Garfield. He followed up a bombastic performance in The Social Network with a few years of the ill-advised Amazing Spider-Man films which removed himself from the scene as a talented actor, but rather as a figurehead of a series that is mediocre at best. Thankfully over the past couple years, Garfield has catapulted back onto the scene as the powerhouse that he is, between the indie tyrant 99 Homes, Mel Gibson’s return effort Hacksaw Ridge, and now this. His best role. In Silence, Garfield embodies the screen with a defiant performance that speaks volumes to his abilities. His character struggles with doubt at his lord’s silence, but this affliction is very rarely portrayed through dialogue. However, you are completely in understanding of his character’s emotions and motivations simply by the subdued brilliance of his acting. I know I’ve used the word brilliance a little too many times in this review, but there really isn’t any other term that gives justice to Garfield. His acting is so exceptionally understated, it really can’t be understood unless you see it. But of course by this point, it’s probably too late.
This film will probably be forgotten for a very long time. If it’s been overlooked now, imagine how it will be treated several years for now. No, I believe this film won’t get the recognition it deserves until Scorsese dies. Then it will be considered the masterpiece that nobody saw.This is a genuine tragedy, as it deserves to be recognized for all its magnificence. You probably won’t be able to see this film in theaters, as most chains have given up on it. I implore you to see this film as soon as it is available to rent. It demands your attention. Please, please watch it. I promise you will not be disappointed.
All images are from Silence, A Paramount Pictures production.