2016 Awards Profile: ‘Silence’ from Martin Scorsese



Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year.  We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year.  For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential.  If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below.  If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Directed By: Martin Scorsese

Written By: Jay Cocks (adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name)

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Ciarán Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Ryô Kase

Synopsis (From IMDB): In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity.

Why it Could Succeed:

Martin Scorsese has almost as strong a track record with the Academy as fellow 70s film school brat Steven Spielberg. A new film from the master of turbulent cinema always attracts heavy interest, and his religious persecution drama should be no exception. On hand leading the ensemble is box office megastar Liam Neeson whose star profile has doubled since his last awards player, Kinsey. Neeson will fittingly play mentor to two young priests played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, two household names that have been bubbling under the Academy’s radar for quite a while now. Garfield, in particular, was probably a few votes away from a “Best Supporting Actor” nod for his piercingly heartfelt work in The Social Network. Driver, meanwhile, has never had the coveted awards role before, so all eyes might be on him to see if an inaugural Oscar nomination is warranted. Most importantly, there’s been a huge wave of support for this film since it’s been a passion project of Scorsese’s since 1991 — he has put this film on hold for decades in favor of more commercial and awards vehicle fare. The love affair working with Leonardo DiCaprio might have also made an impact as well, and now with DiCaprio and Scorsese parting ways for at least one endeavor, Scorsese’s long-awaited project will finally see the light of day.

Driver and Garfield aren’t strangers to attracting a massive crowd of moviegoers. With one major role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there is nobody on the planet who doesn’t know his face nor would refuse an opportunity to see “Kylo Ren” before Episode VIII releases. While Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot got caught in its own web of narrative inconsistencies, Garfield himself was widely praised as a solid replacement for the original movie trilogy’s polarizing Tobey Maguire. Last year’s critically acclaimed turn in the little-seen 99 Homes helped remind viewers of Garfield’s raw talent, and here in Silence he’ll be chomping on enough dramatic material to avoid skepticism of his skill set ever again.


Why it Could Fail:

Quieter Scorsese sans Leonardo DiCaprio and with pre-production woes aplenty? Oh dear! The less bombastic a Scorsese film is, the less the Academy or general public show interest. Look at Kundun for instance – it only garnered four Oscar nominations in pretty insignificant categories, and you probably won’t find anyone who will compliment the film any further than calling it an admirable effort. Scorsese’s artistry shines when grappling with complex antiheroes whose inner darkness is a symptom of the times. When Scorsese veers into more “artsy” territory, there’s a sense that he’s being controlled by imagery and cultures that inspire him and not the other way around. It’s perfectly fine to experiment, but even the best auteurs should know their limitations.

There’s also the matter of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which will only amplify when movies like Silence release. The film plays right into the hands of Hollywood traditionalists who want to preserve the “white hero saves the day” status quo. If casting three well-known Caucasian movie stars to play liberators of a religiously persecuted Japan doesn’t scream “white savior” complex, I honestly don’t know what does. You’d think after all the heat Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai took for almost that exact same issue, Silence would find a way to immediately dig itself out of its own Hollywood entitlement grave. Unfortunately, Silence’s constant delays mean it likely carries some of Hollywood’s ugliest regressive traits in terms of storytelling.

Before you pour the bucket of pig’s blood on me, I want to first say I’m well aware Silence is adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name, which was also turned into a film in 1971 that received worldwide acclaim upon release (another Scorsese remake of an Asian cinema classic!). I’m not saying the cemented history of this West meets East story should change drastically, but I do sincerely hope Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks allow their Asian characters a high degree of individual perspective and insight. Background performances from an international community whose story is being told to the world would be the most tragic of occurrences following Hollywood’s promise of more inclusiveness. Also, is anyone really going to be interested in yet another Hollywood film featuring white male oppression? Like Meryl Streep so eloquently put once upon a time, I do have my doubts!

Awards Speculation:

The high profile of its cast will probably give Silence better odds at some Oscar recognition than Scorsese’s past low-key dramas. I suspect Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield will have the awards campaign strategists butting heads when it comes to pushing one or the other in the “Lead Actor” category. Liam Neeson is the bigger star – heck, he’d probably shine brighter than Polaris if launched into space – and the veteran actor is technically due for an Oscar after tragically missing for his astounding performance in Schindler’s List. Andrew Garfield’s age and Academy novice status could prove disadvantageous, though we’ll see if Paramount prioritizes role integrity over celebrity clout during the categorization process. Whoever falls into the “supporting actor” ring will be competing against Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano (who replaced Ken Watanabe at the last minute, which obviously means his role is avuncularly pivotal) and the consistently brilliant Ciarán Hinds.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto could finally score his second Oscar nomination with Silence (crazy, I know!) – 2005’s Brokeback Mountain was his first and only Academy Award nod, which is pretty insane when taking his outstanding resume into account. It also might not be “fantasy” any longer for us to envision composer Howard Shore earning an Oscar nomination for scoring a non-fantasy film. After being nominated and subsequently losing for his past two Scorsese screenplays, Jay Cocks is hoping the third time is the charm. Given that this is Paramount’s main pony in the Oscar race, I can only assume “Best Picture” is an automatic lock unless the reported behind-the-scenes drama somehow affected the quality of the final product. The film has no release date set currently, but I expect it to land somewhere during the holidays when most prestige Scorsese films make their respective debuts.

Oscar Potential:

Best Picture
Best Actor – Andrew Garfield or Liam Neeson
Best Supporting Actor – Andrew Garfield/Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano or Ciaran Hinds
Best Director
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

Silence will be distributed by Paramount Pictures and currently doesn’t have a scheduled release (as of yet).

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Silence ranks!