Silence is a passion project of the highest degree. It’s an ambitiously grueling film with a hunger and thirst that cannot be easily quenched. It tackles many deep questions about doubt’s relationship with religion, but remains open-ended with unwavering faith. The message is accessible, but the stark and highbrow execution may provide unintended distance due to its contemplative demeanor.
As commander, Scorsese manages to keep the ship sailing on course even when the overall power of the subject matter threatens to overwhelm the story itself. It’s densely dialogue-driven and a rare narratively heavy film for the master auteur. It’s extremely talky and shifts through many repeated motifs on an opaque scene by scene basis. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver commit to their roles with distraught and tenacious physicality, but not much connection. In just a few scenes, Liam Neeson bares a raw vulnerability we haven’t seen expressed from him in quite some time. It’s nice to see him in a movie that doesn’t require him to punch somebody or vault over a vehicle. The foreign ensemble is well-represented with devious turns from Yosuke Kubozuka and Issei Ogata as the snarling and campy Inquisitor. Rodrigo Prieto’s painterly eye as cinematographer applies gloomy and still compositions that penetrate the mind. One tense wide-shot involving a trail of blood continues to haunt me. Natural lighting combined with the jagged and disoriented editorial cuts that lap between undisclosed angles and time frames strive to create this fever-dream pitch. The immaculate and titanic technical aspects all payoff in unison as moving pieces that fully realize Scorsese’s passionate vision.
This is an all-consuming plunge into spirituality, but overall I’m thankful I took the dive. Repeated viewings should reveal this as a massive achievement in an already illustrious career of a legendary director. [A-]