Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Yōsuke Kubozuka and Ciarán Hinds
In UK Cinemas January 1st, 2017
Pre-order on iTunes

by Joanna Orland

Martin Scorsese has long wanted to make a film adaptation of the 1966 novel Silence by Shūsaku Endo. This labour of love has blinded Scorsese to some of the story’s ‘unfilmable’ elements which sadly the director does not overcome primarily due to weak casting choices.

The film begins with great potential – Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests who venture to Japan to locate their mentor and spread Christianity. The cinematography of Silence is beautiful, having been filmed in a scenery rich Taiwan. Beautiful and harsh nature immerses the viewer into the plight of the priests and the local Japanese, who have been forbidden to practice the religion by the inquisition, under penalty of death. A strong and powerful start to Silence unfortunately unravels in the second half as Andrew Garfield’s character finds himself on his own journey, pondering over God’s silent existence.

The second half, faithful to the book, focuses on the priest Rodrigues; captured by the Japanese, unable to help the people of Christian faith, with the inquisitor and his army trying to break his convictions. Long, pondering scenes of Andrew Garfield in a cage, with subdued voiceover giving insight into his existential questions is uninteresting to watch. It’s not Garfield’s fault persay, as he is a capable and likeable actor, but not one of the calibre to carry such a weighty film. A simple swap of casting could have fixed this flaw, and made the film extremely powerful – Adam Driver as Rodrigues, Garfield as Garrpe. It almost feels as though Garfield was cast in the lead due to his resemblance to Jesus rather than his acting suitability. Driver is the captivating one – once Garfield’s character is captured and becomes the sole focus of the film, Driver’s absence is sorely felt. When Driver returns, he steals scenes even from afar. If the roles were reversed, I would be writing a very different review – singing this film’s praises for its ambition rather than criticizing it for its misguided flaws.

Another misjudged performance in Silence comes from Issey Ogata as the inquisitor Inoue Masashige. Playing the role comedically campy as though he is in a Carry On film, this performance belongs in another movie altogether. While the inquisitor is a somewhat absurd character in the novel, this portrayal takes it too far and is a complete tonal mismatch for this film.

Technically, Silence is a visually beautiful film, albeit one with some pacing issues. What is rather jarring about the technical side of this film is its use of ADR (automated dialogue replacement, aka dubbing). Usually seamless in a film, the dubbing on Silence is noticeable, jarring and mismatched on not just the Japanese actors, but also on Garfield himself at times. For such a labour of love long in the making from a highly prolific and renowned director, there is no excuse for such an unprofessional delivery. While riddled with minor ADR issues throughout, it is notably in the scenes between Garfield and the Japanese translator that at times are so jarring it feels like a bad edit. The film otherwise looks and feels so skillfully made, it confuses me how this got through to the final edit.

As a film about God’s silence, one peculiar choice Scorsese makes is to hear God’s voice at the turning point of this film. I initially read the scene as Rodrigues hearing the voice of God through his own thoughts, but thinking back on the scene, another actor’s voice is used in the role of God. Many people interpret this scene as God speaking to Rodrigues – contradicting the entire point of Silence. Because of the huge contradiction, I’d just assumed the voice in Rodrigues’ head was his own, but again, the use of a different actor to Garfield either implies that it isn’t him and therefore God, or that this is open for debate. The point of God’s silence in the story should not be one that is up for debate, whether or not the novel implies so – a brief moment in the film destroys the good faith it has built up in telling the story of Silence.

While the film feels like an epic, it falls short going into the second half. A strong start turns dire as Silence is riddled with flaws which could have been easily solvable with the right actors in the right roles, a better pacing, and a more conscientious pass on the post production. There is so much potential in Scorsese’s Silence that it’s almost painful how it misses the mark.

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