Scorsese comes really close to the restraint necessary for this, but he just can’t help himself.
Silence is 2.5 hours, but it needed to have been longer. It needed to have felt longer. This is, above many things, a film about suffering – for faith, for arrogance, for no reason at all – and about the justification of such a thing. Martin Scorsese is seemingly the man most suited to explore this topic, perhaps more than any other filmmaker alive today – almost every one of his films comes back to a struggle with his faith and the contradictions therein. But he was not the man for this job.
Scorsese is a master of compressing time, a master of rhythm, but he is not a filmmaker suited to making the audience endure – and this is a film that needed someone who could. For every long stretch of restrained, contemplative filmmaking, there was another Scorsese whip pan – POW – that pulled me out of the mood, pushed the film forward, too fast too fast. There is no tedium here, no attempt to force an empathy with the tortured and the seeking upon the audience. A filmmaker like Bela Tarr or Gus Van Sant could have achieved this, pulled the audience into a state of elongated time, but Scorsese seems unable to help himself, unable to stop moving forward. I’m not asking for more graphic scenes, just ones with more feeling.
Outside of that, though, there’s a ton of poignancy and beauty throughout this. It’s an extremely powerful film, and maybe of the great explorations of religion as a need to some people, as close to a necessity as food or water – all of which makes the confusion it often creates that much more unbearable.
I just think that Scorsese’s inherent vice stops it from ever truly being great.
Some notes on the acting:
Andrew Garfield is wildly miscast. I didn’t buy him in the role, save for a few scenes in the second third where only has to act naively sure of himself. Outside of that, he didn’t possess the arrogance or self-denial I thought the part required. He was static and calculated when he needed to be a king on the verge of breakdown. I actually think Adam Driver would have been much better for this part, though that may be less due to his potential and more due to me being pissed that he’s essentially wasted in a small role that never rises above didactic foil and quickly disappears. My two favourite performances were that of Liam Neeson, who brings a tinge of the pathetic to his character that is both heart-breaking and nicely subversive of his current acting persona, and that of cult filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto, nearly unrecognisable as a strong willed but vulnerable peasant from the first section.
Also, quick shout out to Javier Bardem as the voice of God, genius casting there.