As pointed out by Wynter Tyson (one of the curators of the #CriticsChoice series at Beau Cinema) during his introduction to this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the revered director has, throughout his career, often explored elements of faith in his work.
From the more obvious in the The Last a Temptation Of Christ to references in Gangs of New York to, arguably, a mirroring of a kind of corrupted faith in Wolf of Wall Street – Silence though follows Last Temptation in being a more direct take on the subject.
The film tells the story of a pair for Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a mission to Japan in the 17th century to continue the development of Christianity in the country and seek out the fate of their teacher, Padre Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
From the start, a fog shrouded scene featuring severed heads and a particularly unique and specific form of torture being administered to a group of Christian priests told from the point of view of Ferreira, it’s clear this is going to be a deep, dark journey and exploration of faith, and it doesn’t disappoint.
While Scorsese is perfectly adept at everything from b-movie style fare to bright modern drama, here he more than proves why he is as regarded as he is as one of Hollywood’s best directors.
Every moment of Silence feels created with all aspects coming together to create something all-encompassing.
The sound design particularly stands out (as the title might suggest) being very low-key but highlighting what it needs to without resorting to the grand sweeping orchestrations or stereotypically ethnic sounds a lesser director might.
This allows the visuals, which range from the rusticity beautiful to the genuinely brutal, to really stand out and strike in a way that is never melodramatic, giving the whole thing a sense of realism that is really absorbing.
While Liam Neeson’s appearance feels something like an extended cameo in the mould of his turns as Qui-Gon Jin in The Phantom Menace or Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins (just a little more serious) and Adam Driver brings an impressive intensity to Padre Francisco Garupe, it is Andrew Garfield who owns the film.
Garfield, as Padre Sebastião Rodrigues, is the film’s centre and really, despite the historical themes surrounding him, it is his journey that is the central plot.
We watch him struggle with his faith both physically and psychologically in a way that is (for the most part) brilliantly understated but gradually works its way into a truly effective and effecting place that shows a side to him I honestly never thought possible based on his pair of outings as Spider-Man (an unfair comparison I realise, but it makes the point).
While I’m not sure the film effected me on the spiritual level that it would Scorsese, or indeed anyone of a more religious or spiritual bent, Silence is a genuinely impressive piece of cinema.
It both manages to capture a period of history I knew not as much about and also allows space for a very real feeling story to be told without resorting to typical over the top cinematic tricks to manipulate its audience or rushing to explain every last thing, meaning it will likely sit in the back of my mind for a good while to come.