Silence, film review: ‘Determinedly undramatic’

Liam Neeson in Silence. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Liam Neeson in Silence. Picture: Paramount Pictures - Credit: Archant

The latest film on Martin Scorsese’s directorial list, starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, lacks the energy and invention of his previous works

It isn’t silent, but it is very quiet. It’s not a film to be rustling pop corn or having a coughing fit in.

Scorsese has been ruminating for over 25 years on this adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s novel about two Jesuit missionaries risking torture and death in 17th century Japan.

It’s his passion project, and his passion is to renounce all his worldly filmmaking skill: to cast aside the energy and invention he plugged into those films about gangsters, boxers and psychos, and replace it with 160 minutes of quiet reflection and contemplation.

It is determinedly undramatic; it is either an unyielding and unmodulated expression of spiritual intensity, or an interminably long and boring film about religion.

Scorsese’s film is fiercely committed. The plot is broadly a Heart of Darkness journey: Portuguese priests Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver decide to go to Japan to find out what has happened to Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who has reported gone rogue, given up his faith and married a Japanese woman.

As they make their way across the land they try to offer succour to the Japanese Christians they meet, as they head towards the point where their own faith will be tested.

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The cast are definitely up for it. Driver, in particular, is perfectly cast; so much so that one might imagine that his improbable rise to semi-stardom had been ordained just so he would be available for this role.

There is one exception though: Issie Ogata plays the chief inquisitor as an evil lisping Fu Manchu figure.

It’s a ridiculous performance, entirely at odds with the film around it. There is one moment where he slumps down like a burst balloon and you can see all the intensity seeping out of the movie.

Scorsese considered the priesthood as a youth. Whenever he has previously tackled issues of faith in his movies (Last Temptation of Christ; Kundun; George Harrison: Living in the Material World) he has always found a way to make it open to all, to engage with the sceptical.

Silence though feels like a closed conversation throughout. Like other religious epics The Passion of The Christ or The Exorcist, if you aren’t already on side then the whole thing is faintly ludicrous.

On a review of Jude Law in The Young Pope.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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