Film Review: ‘Silence’ Flourishes With Respect and Martin Scorsese’s Ultimate Legacy

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Silence

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.

Grade: (★★★★)

Trailer:

  • Joey Magidson

    I’ll confess, I struggled mightily with this movie. Now, not being a particularly religious person might have something to do with it, but I found myself appreciating what Scorsese was doing more than enjoying or liking it. The pacing felt off and the plot got repetitive at times. It’s beautiful to look at and overall is a solid three star film that I’m glad I saw, but I’m going to be one of the ones who is more lukewarm on it than others. It deserves praise though, don’t get me wrong.

    • Reece

      Don’t be so light on it. If you personally didn’t enjoy, you didn’t enjoy it. It sounds like you’re making excuses for you being uninterested in the film. :

      • Joey Magidson

        Well, I’m just separating appreciating the artful and exquisitely made nature of the film from the lack of interest I have in the plot. It’s hardly the first time it’s happened, this is just a large schism than usual. I frankly have major problems with religion, so I normally shy away from something faith based, and while this isn’t God’s Not Dead or propaganda like that, it’s certainly meant to come from a place of belief. I’ll likely see it again at another press screening to try and wrestle with it all. Like plenty of classics, it’s one I appreciate more than like, but that’s just me, and we’ll see what a subsequent viewing brings.

        • Reece

          I suggest you take a second look, but you shouldn’t force it. If you didn’t enjoy some aspects, who cares. It’s not the film of the decade. 😉

          • Joey Magidson

            If there’s a convenient screening, I likely will. The things I didn’t enjoy don’t really take away from the experience, they just prevent it from being transformative. I’m in the minority, but I know I’m not the only one who found it a hard watch at times. It’s the sort of thing I would have really been fascinated by back in film school, I’ll say that.

            • Adam Lawrence

              I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ve read the book and I assume Scorsese stays faithful to it. But I’ve seen you post several times over the years about your difficulty with religious themes in movies. It seems this is a movie about faith more than “religion” – if you have issues with “religion” well hey, you’re far from alone there. But I wonder if you don’t have some sort of insight into faith (or lack of it) that wouldn’t make for a great critical reading. The history of cinema is laden with religious themes and imagery, I’d be worried you’re missing out on entire spectra of meaning by simply declining to engage. What do you do with Dreyer or Bergman? What do you do with Allen who seems to desperately long for an explanation or meaning of our existence, even while he rejects all available options. What do you do with other less explicitly Christian directors like David Ayer or John Woo? Minnelli, Hitchcock, Ford and more were all practicing Catholics into adulthood.

              Admittedly Scorsese is probably my favorite director so in a way I do want this movie to be amazing, but even so, I mean practically every Scorsese Protagonist is Catholic, even when they’re not (Ace Rothstein, Newland Archer, etc.). Nearly every image of fire in his work can be read as a proxy for the fires of hell and potential punishment for sin. I’m not saying you’re wrong to feel a little cold or distant to the story or it’s message – that’s legitimate and human. But look at Roger Ebert who had no positive inclinations towards faith or an afterlife, yet his writing on religious films could be his most fascinating. After seeing this type of comment many times, I can’t help but feel there’s a wealth of analysis and critique you’re holding back from us, and that’s the writing I’d most love to read.

              • Joey Magidson

                Yes, by all accounts the film is a faithful adaptation.

                I don’t decline to engage, or else I wouldn’t have seen the movie. I feel similarly about most Bergman films. I appreciate and recognize the art/mastery while not deriving much pleasure out of it. That’s not exclusive to religiously themed films. I don’t tend to enjoy Innaritu, but I recognize how exquisitely made 21 Grams is, for example.

                Allen I happen to love, but that’s just how my mileage varies. It’s not if a director is religious or not, it’s only sometimes when the work itself is so steeped in faith that if you don’t believe, it can seem like you’re missing out. The concept here of a higher power’s silence in the name of suffering is one I understand as a concept and on a cinematic level, but it never gets under the skin, as it were.

                You’re right in the sense that I haven’t usually gone as deep on something like this as I could with other works, and it’s something I’ve actually thought about tackling more. It may not be with this particular film, though a second viewing could compel me there.

                Mostly, I just don’t want it to seem like I dismiss something like this. Just like a devoutly Catholic person isn’t going to automatically worship Silence, I don’t shun it out of hand. The film is crafted with as much beauty and care as anything else this year. There’s just a deeper level of the maze that I don’t reach as easily, if that makes sense?

                • Adam Lawrence

                  Makes plenty of sense! I get that totally – I mean, Malick’s films are more or less steeped in faith but are presented in an artistic way that one can get really into them without even touching on religion (as are most of Scorsese’s). Silence might not have that same sort of universal accessibility, and that’s an important critique. Is a movie truly great if it leaves people “missing out?” Or is alienation an inherent aspect of great art? I dunno, y’all are the critics here. (And yeah, sorry, “decline to engage” is not perhaps the right language. I’m not accusing or undermining your position or anything, not intentionally, I didn’t read your comment as dismissing the movie at all.)

                  I’ve been reading awards circuit since it was Oscar Igloo, maybe 10 or 11 years now and I don’t comment a ton, but I’ve noticed we have similar taste in a lot of movies, and I’ve also noticed this recurring theme. All I’m saying is, if you’re gonna bring it up in the comments as a kind of polite throwaway excusing yourself from heaping praise as Reese suggested, it’s gonna get me interested in why. You clearly have an opinion or a perspective that influences your view of this movie, and I want to see that essay. Faith just means belief, so lack of “Faith” is still a form of faith, it’s belief in the absence of something, I find it hard to believe that doesn’t connect with Silence in some interesting way, as in, why was Silence silent to you? I look forward to seeing more from you on these topics in the future 🙂

                  • Joey Magidson

                    It really just depends on the situation. I mean, Jackie has a huge element of faith to it, and it’s one of my favorites of the year. So it all varies.

                    With Silence, I think there’s just some specific imagery and moments that are meant to be more powerful if you can get into the protagonist’s mindset. It’s the sort of thing I’m curious to revisit though, I’ll say that.

    • Alec Glass

      Heh, “I’ll confess” hehe

      • Joey Magidson

        Couldn’t resist that wordplay.

  • AwardsWatch

    “It’s been 22 years since Haing S. Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for “The Killing Fields”

    Actually, it’s been 32 years. That was 1984.

    • Peter Templeman

      I’m sure it was probably a typo but thank God for perfect people like you to tell us our mistakes.

      • AwardsWatch

        How is that being a dick? It was merely a correction so that he could edit it.

        • Peter Templeman

          Maybe you should word it better so you don’t sound like you are superior perhaps.

          • AwardsWatch

            Now who’s the dick.

            • Reece

              savage

            • Peter Templeman

              That doesn’t even make sense.

              • AwardsWatch

                I have a great relationship with Clayton based on mutual respect and admiration. I’ve guested on his podcasts, he’s a cool guy. My comment was brief only because I don’t post long-winded paragraphs when a short sentence will do. And with that, this comments section is now more about this than the movie or Clayton’s review, which is what it should be about. Sorry for the distraction, Clayton, carry on!

                • Peter Templeman

                  So, it’s my fault you talk this way? This isn’t about me nor do I want it to be. I have been admiring of Clayton’s work for a very long time. I came to read this review and I look at the comment section to find your blunt review. For someone with mutual respect and admiration I don’t see anything saying “Great review” or “Interesting” All I see is a very blunt remark which shows a deep lack of respect for someone. Especially someone you say you hold in high regard. I apologise for the people having to read the comment section because of our discussion and apologise to Clayton for getting off gage subject of what we should actually be talking about which is the film. As for you if you want to discuss this further I’ll happily talk privately.

          • Cornelius Buttersby

            “Actually, it’s been 32 years. That was 1984.”
            That’s literally the only sentence he has outside of the quote. There isn’t even any room for tone there. It’s a correction, not some assertion of superority. You read too much into it to justify accusing someone of trying to act superior or perfect.

            • Peter Templeman

              Which is why I said it should be worded better. How blunt is that sentence written? Are you telling me you would accept someone talking to you like that? Come on, there are ways to tell someone they made a mistake And everyone makes mistakes. You can at least tell them politely and furthermore this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him talk to people like this.

  • Reece

    Golden Globe predictions soon? Nominations are monday!

  • Peter Templeman

    Very good review. I can’t wait to see it!

  • Phill Milner

    I’m excited to see this. I need a win right now. After being thoroughly disappointed in Arrival, Moonlight, and Hell or High Water, I feel like I’m overdue for a great movie. Maybe I can get it next week with Rogue One or Lala Land.

  • Sandy Robertson

    Haven’t seen it yet as it’s just about to open in UK, but I have to say I felt the review was a bit over reverent and I get nervy when a movie reviewer starts referencing his “Lord and Savior”. Still, must check it out as Scorsese is a master. Can I just say I was surprised to see the infighting between some folks on this thread about a simple correction – is it always like this? For myself I felt a correction should be short and to the point and just because it wasn’t full of excuse-me’s and compliments didn’t make me see it as rude.