Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is the very definition of a passion project

For a great many years, filmmaker Martin Scorsese has been trying to get one specific project off the ground. Through all the gangster tales and big successes, something has eluded him, namely a remake of the Japanese film Silence. This week, Scorsese sees his movie finally released. It’s a film that doesn’t lend itself to easy analysis or criticism, so one can only guess how the Academy will respond to it. Having seen it weeks ago, I’m still not certain what to make of it. It’s powerful filmmaking though, no one can deny that much. Scorsese put his heart and soul into it, and it shows.

The movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Shûsaku Endô. In broad strokes, it follows a pair of Jesuit priests in the seventeenth century as they travel to Japan to face off against extreme violence and persecution as they attempt to locate their missing mentor and spread the word of Catholicism. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Farther Garrpe (Adam Driver) are warned at the start by a senior Jesuit in Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is lost, but they insist. In short order, they bear witness to just how bad it is, on both sides, and struggle with a supreme being’s silence in the face of pain. Scorsese co-writes the adaptation with Jay Cocks and directs. Also in the cast are Tadanobu Asano, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and more. Longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker again edits, while Rodrigo Prieto handles the cinematography.

I’ll admit to struggling with how overtly religious this flick is. To true believers, the concept of waiting for their god to answer their prayers during hardship will ring with deep meaning, while for others, it will seem like a lot of fuss over nothing. Even if you’re a nonbeliever like I am, it’s still easy to appreciate the work Scorsese put into it and the performances, namely from Garfield and Ogata in a strong supporting turn. Silence won’t go down as one of his finest works, but any study of his career will have to have a big section on it and what it meant to him.

Silence is a definite X factor in the awards game, it just remains to be seen to what degree. There’s an effort in place though, that’s for sure. Campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Scorsese), Best Actor (for Garfield), Best Supporting Actor (for Driver, Neeson, and Ogata), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Cocks and Scorsese), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. I suspect that the film will get a technical nod or two, but outside of the techs, noms are a question mark. To be sure, Picture, Director for Scorsese, and Adapted Screenplay for Cocks and Scorsese are in play, but could go either way. We’ll have to stay tuned there, so sit tight for more precursors to come in.

Overall, this weekend marks at long last the release of Scorsese’s passion project in Silence, and that’s something to be pleased about. Whether Oscar comes calling or not remains to be seen (and if they do, it probably will be at the last moment), but audiences can check it out as of tomorrow, when the platform release begins. Any fan of Scorsese’s should consider it a must see, along with any serious cinephile. There’s a lot being tackled within and sometimes the vision is greater than its grasp, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. Silence is a tough sit, but a movie well worth seeing…

Be sure to check out Silence, in theaters this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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