Film review – Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2017)

For much of Silence, Martin Scorsese’s Japan-set epic about Christian missionaries in the 1600s, I was desperately trying to enjoy myself. Eventually I did, but that was only when I realised how much Andrew Garfield looked like a young Barry Gibb and I started to re-imagine the plot as a bizarre Bee Gees origin story.

Andrew Garfield stars as Barry Gibb

The film maps the journey of two young Portuguese Jesuit Christian missionaries: Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). In 1640 they travel to Japan in the hope of finding Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their teacher and mentor that they have learned has apostatised and converted to the Japanese way of life and assumed a Japanese identity.

The first thing that will disappoint you when you watch the film is the ridiculous decision to have the actors speaking in English throughout. It makes no sense. Why get English-speaking actors in and have them speak with a decreasingly dedicated accent? Why not just get a Brazilian or Portuguese actor to take the role? What we end up with is a couple of  vaguely Spanish voices, that slowly drift in and out of authenticity.

It eventually comes to a head with a hilarious low point when Garfield shares a scene with translator Tadanobu Asano, who is of course speaking in English but with a Japanese accent. If you’ve got two characters deciding to speak in Portuguese but doing so in English before carrying on in English, then you’ve got a problem. It’s simply crazy. I’d much rather the filmmakers have some faith in their viewers and play to the story’s authenticity rather than this lacklustre compromise. At least Liam Neeson had the guts to “pull a Connery” and stick to his own accent.

The other letdown is the overall pacing, which felt like it was deliberately slow. I put this down to Scorsese’s closeness to the project (he originally acquired the rights to Endo Shusaku’s book in 1989 during the making of Goodfellas). At 161 minutes long, there must have been some scope to reduce the total running time. Arguably this is an expansive story that needs time to breathe and the slow pace as Rodrigues gets drawn away from his faith is perfect for the story. It’s just not all that enjoyable.

It is a film of juxtapositions. The beautiful cinematography captures the landscapes of rural Japan in a way that transports you straight backwards 400 years, but there are some suspicious CGI moments that felt out of place. The wonderful costumes aren’t matched by some of the hair and make-up efforts. The quality acting is lost amongst the tangled web of accent approximations.

It feels epic, but the reality is nothing but a disappointment.

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