‘Silence’ pushes boundaries of faith with bravery and passion

Monday, January 16, 2017 - 4:40pm

NOSELL

Paramount Pictures

 

Few movies bleed passion. With many disinterested movies funded with the hopes of a sizable return on investment, it’s always so refreshing to watch one where it’s clear that everyone was fully committed and believed in the project. “Silence” is a rare feat, a movie whose passion is visible from start to finish.

Director Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) retells Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name following 25 years of production, a “passion project.” After several disputes with production companies, including struggles to sign actors like Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”), Scorsese finally delivers one of the most challenging and rewarding movies of his 21st century catalogue.

“Silence” tells the story of Jesuit priests Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) in their quest to Japan to search for their mentor, Cristóvão Ferreira, who is said to have committed apostasy. Upon arriving in Japan, the priests and their new Catholic followers face opposition from the Samurai. Rodrigues is eventually imprisoned, along with many of his Catholic disciples.

Ideas of faith and sacrifice are the focal point of “Silence,” and answers do not come easily for Rodrigues. In all regards, the Catholics’s loyalty to their religion is tested under the most brutal of conditions. “Silence” reasons to make meaning of religious sacrifice when meaning is indiscernible. It’s a testament to those lost and finding their way through religion against all opposing forces.

For those expecting crusade-like battle scenes and Samurai fights, anticipate disappointment. “Silence” is a slow-burner, a movie that pays off with great royalties to those patient enough to endure its considerable length. Those rewards, ultimately, fuel the movie for its entire duration. Although lagging at some points, the movie is just short of feeling bloated. The same story couldn’t be told in 90 minutes.

From breathtaking shots of lush Taiwan — where the movie was shot — to Japanese towns, “Silence” is visually stunning. Still, it’s not overly dependent on the gorgeous scenery and sets. The film plays off the wonders of the region while not getting distracted by its beauty. It adds to the movie, but never gets carried away by the rocky shores or expansive hills.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s (“Passengers”) shots are haunting. Without being intensely gory or too brutal, certain images of “Silence” are tragic and encapsulating; each shot feels like a thousand lines of dialogue.

The film does not rely on melodrama to communicate its meaning. Garfield’s performance locks in key emotions without ever breaking the limit of what feels overdone. It’s unusual in that every expression and line shows the most extreme forms of conflict and human suffering. However, it is Driver’s performance that should surely solidify him as one of his generation’s best actors. After roles varying from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to “Paterson,” Driver once again proves his versatility. Unlike “Girls,” the underwhelming TV show that propelled Driver into stardom, he’s only getting better with each release.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” was the first introduction for many teenagers and college students to Martin Scorsese; the movie is his highest grossing of all time. “Silence” is about as different as possible. Whereas “The Wolf of Wall Street” was about hedonism and wealth, “Silence” is ascetic and impoverished. It rejects the maximalism of “Wolf” in favor of minimalism. The two can’t be compared. Though, if necessary, “Silence” wins.