Religion has played a huge part in the illustrious career of Martin Scorsese, and his latest historical epic is the last piece in what is being referred to as his religious triptych. Co-writing the screenplay with past collaborator Jay Cocks, Silence is adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, and focuses on two Portuguese Jesuit priests that aim to spread Christianity through Japan in the 17th century. When Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) hear a rumour that their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has committed apostasy after being tortured, they refuse to believe that the missionary would abandon his faith, and embark on a dangerous mission to track him down.
Due to the most popular entries in his varied back catalogue of cinema, Scorsese films have become synonymous with pop-rock laden soundtracks and the glamorisation of sex, crime and violence. The deep and meaningful themes explored in this work couldn’t be further from these trademarks but is a gruelling passion project from the veteran, and still maintains his signature style. We’re led through the story by Rodrigues’ internal monologue and regular collaborator Rodrigo Prieto striking cinematography accompanies the narrative very well, often shooting under a thick blanket of mist and fog. At times the work edges towards self-indulgence in its overly blatant approach to pious symbolism but allowances can be made when the zest of the filmmaking is as evident as it is.
Aside from the technical achievements of Scorsese’s previous movies, he is known to draw stellar performances from his cast, most notably from his leading men. In this piece, there is a lack of a strong wow-factor central performance. The characters feel underdeveloped despite the extensive running time, like unfinished figures in what it otherwise a clear cinematic vision. Perhaps the most memorable turn comes from Yōsuke Kubozuka who plays Kichijiro, a weak alcoholic Christian who lacks the willpower of his fellow followers. He represents the Judas-esque equivalent of the typical gangster genre rat who won’t adhere to the strict code of conduct, and is willing to betray anyone to save his own skin.
In years to come, I’m not convinced that Silence will be mentioned in the same breath as the Scorsese classics of times gone by, but it is undoubtedly powerful, and very personal cinema. The established trio of Garfield, Driver and Neeson struggle with the complexity and weight of the material, but there is enough vim and vigour in the visuals and directorial prowess to carry the story through to the bitter end. It’s an experience that you wouldn’t want to endure on a loop, but that deserves to be seen on the big screen.