BY ROGER THOMAS
Ask almost any true film fan to name the three greatest living directors and most people will include Martin Scorsese as one of the three. Scorsese is not for everyone’s taste, but very often in the midst of the story there are profound ideas and great artistry.
His latest film is “Silence.” The story is a simple one. Two young Catholic priests go to Japan with the hope they will find their mentor alive. However, this is a time when Christianity has been outlawed in Japan so the two priests must practice their faith, search for their mentor and witness to villagers in secrecy.
“Silence” has many strengths. First, the film is one hundred and sixty-one minutes but it always moves at a brisk pace. In the beginning as the two priests first meet villagers, the film may lag a little, but overall the narrative keeps transforming and offering surprises. In the end “Silence” seems to be much shorter than some other films that have recently opened because the pace keeps moving.
“Silence” is also a beautiful film. The cinematography is lush. The costumes are impressive. The various sets including huts, markets and prisons and a whole host of other settings form an authentic atmosphere.
Then there are the actors. The three main characters are all exceptionally cast. Andrew Garfield is having a year that any actor would love envy. First, he played a compassionate soldier who seeks to save physical lives on the battlefields of World War II in “Hacksaw Ridge.” Then in “Silence” he is Father Rodrigues, a priest hoping to save souls and find the man who trained him.
Adam Driver plays Father Garrpe. Garrpe is equally loyal to the cause of Christ and the search for the man who has mentored him and his comrade.
That teacher is played by Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira. Late in the film Ferreira makes a speech that is moving and challenging. This is the moment for me that the film became something powerful and unique and the whole journey of the film becomes an experience that should be experienced more than once.
Looking back on the film there are two slight regrets I have concerning “Silence.” First, the film has almost no material that is objectionable except for some violence. During the film and afterwards, I pondered whether the scenes of violence could have been less harsh so that the film could have gotten a PG-13 rating. More people may have perhaps gone to “Silence” if the rating was different because Scorsese films are known to be violent. I believe so strongly in this film, I would like for as many people to see it possible.
My other criticism comes with the narration near the end of the film. I understand that a lot of information was being offered at a quick pace. Perhaps the narration was necessary but I found it to be intrusive.
But none of the weaknesses really make a difference. This is a film about faith. Specifically a film about the Christian faith. Many questions are pondered, and some may even offend some viewers, but I doubt many people will leave the theatre without something to consider. I believe this is a film for those who take their faith seriously. I do not know what motivated Scorsese to make this film at this point in his life. I am not sure what he wanted his audience to consider or embrace. I only know that I keep thinking about the film and that is highest compliment I can ever offer any work. It is also the best any director can offer his audience. I will probably never meet Scorsese, but if I did, I would thank him for “Silence.”
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.