Martin Scorsese has been a master of his craft for decades. It’s hard not to consider him our single finest director working today. With films like “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and now his newest endeavor “Silence,” we must now relish with the fact that we are witnessing a grand master of sorts working right in front of our eyes. History has remembered “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo.” These were two films not wholeheartedly recognized as masterpieces of their time. History now, however, will remember “Silence,” a marvelous and inspiring cinematic experience not to be forgotten.
“Silence” tells the story of two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who in the seventeenth century, face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor, Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), and propagate Catholicism.
“Silence” is Scorsese’s most personal and beautiful film of his modern career. Labeling it just a “passion project” does it no justice. It has etched out a new avenue in which we can explore film forever. He has explored some of the most enigmatic themes in film, whether it be about revenge, family or a general exercise to push the boundaries of the medium.
With “Silence,” he writes his most heartaching letter yet. There are filmmakers who are quickly trapped into the corner of “indulgence” when taking on a production this personal to them. Scorsese gets into the trenches of the story, mysteriously performing his own deconstruction of his faith and what it has meant to him. You can’t ask a director to be more involved in the house of his film. He builds the foundation, drawing from the soul of his spiritual ancestors, and gives them his most devoted respect. Scorsese gives the viewer the weight of the message and lets it rest upon us. We are desperately and quietly screaming for justice, in a land that isn’t allowing such things. Simply put, it’s awe-inspiring.
Andrew Garfield is divinely spectacular. With a year that has included another strong turn in “Hacksaw Ridge,” Garfield has shown himself to be one of the next generation’s most gifted thespians. Adam Driver’s vulnerability has never been matched in all his previous roles. He becomes the audience’s spokesperson of doubt and logic, as Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks make him our voice of reason in a rich and layered dynamic.
Issey Ogata is one of the year’s vivid findings. Acting as the “Hans Landa” of Catholic persecution, Ogata’s Inquisitor Inoue nearly reinvents the spiritual nature of the film, stealing every scene he shares with another actor. It’s been 32 years since Haing S. Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for “The Killing Fields” and it’s about time the Academy rewards a deserving Asian actor. With Ogata, a new Supporting Actor contender has emerged. Liam Neeson’s work, though integral to the story, is a bit too brief to make a lasting impact.
It’s easy to write “masterpiece” for a film, and let it be generally understood by the casual movie-goer that reads it. The word left by itself doesn’t fully explain the film’s technical mastery. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Thelma Schoonmaker are masters of their crafts. Prieto frames the film to utter perfection, utilizing fog and blue-grey hues to capture the film’s undying message of faith. Schoonmaker lets the story evolve into a construction of time, allowing the viewer to feel the “weight” of the “waiting.”
“Silence” is epic, poignant and inventive. It must be said: As someone who was raised Catholic, used to be a high school religion teacher, and had his own personal qualms with his Lord and Savior, “Silence” spoke to me in a way I was not anticipating. I do recognize that there could be a large portion of the world, especially those who don’t have strong feelings about any Christian religion, that may not be fully invested in the weight of its message. Scorsese set out to make a film about the ecstasy of one’s own faith.
How much do you value it? Why are there others so thirsty and hungry for its divine meanings and teachings? These are just two of many questions that the film dares to ask, and you really don’t get the clear answer you may be searching for. For a select group, it could infuriate you, for others, it was just the tip of the iceberg of the glacier that lies beneath.
The language of cinema is universal. The frames tell everything you need it to. Without words, a single image can change the world. What if “Silence” was a silent film? What would that have offered in its quest for answers? It’s remarkably creative, and on the surface, you can say it’s repetitive in what it displays to the viewer. The continuous striking of faith beats you down, submitting to the film’s own moral compass, and developing a new wave of art that we have only dreamed.
“Silence” is imperative to our landscape. It is the crown jewel of Martin Scorsese’s modern career, and in time, could be the defining film that history will use to represent him – his magnum opus.
“Silence” is distributed by Paramount Pictures and will be released on Christmas in limited release before expanding on Jan. 6.