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Silence (2017)

A labor of love for ten years, Martin Scorsese's interpretation of Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel of the same name is the first film I've caught in 2017.  Although we managed to bravely struggle through the hangovers to watch it yesterday on the 1st Jan, it's taken me a while to digest and think on exactly how I feel about.  That I've been thinking about Silence ever since the credits began to roll should be enough to persuade many to go and make their own minds up.  Ultimately I think its too much hard work to say it meets the high expectations we and Scorsese set for it, but if you're after a stunning looking and thought provoking start to the year, this film is certainly that.

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Two 17th century Jesuit priests receive word that their mentor (Liam Neeson), has abandoned the faith upon facing persecution in Japan.  They decide they must search him out to find the truth as well as attempting to spread Catholicism in the country.  Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver shake off their respective Spiderman and Star Wars franchises as they struggle against misinterpretation of Catholicism and backlashes to their faith in equal measure.  Both actors are excellent, but it's Garfield's physical and emotional journey that the film decides to focus in on.  This is a story of one man's faith, and how that can be gradually stripped away layer by layer.  It's a testing journey for him and the audience, not least because of the time it takes to run it's course.  Although it does feel very one paced and could have shaved off 30 minutes without any detriment to the end result, Garfield's performance is brilliantly raw as his character struggles to balance his faith with the horrors of persecution.

It's that subject matter that the film hangs it's hat on though.  Faith in a religion when faced with adversity may resonate with many, but I struggled to sympathise with the character's motivations at times.  After nearly three hours of characters being offered the choice between committing apostasy by stamping on a picture of God or torture, I found myself losing patience with them... just stand on it!  The entire film only ever seems to be heading in one direction, and that predictability can be trying when faced with a run time as long as this.  Thankfully, you do have the gorgeous scenery to drink in, and some of the best cinematography I've seen in quite a while.  It's brilliantly acted by Garfield, Driver and Neeson (briefly), but it's the Japanese cast that really draw the eye. Yōsuke Kubozuka’s tortured Kichijiro is Garfield's Judas, and juggles an inner turmoil with more weight that either of the other characters. Tadanobu Asano, as an interpreter for Garfield is so unnerving, sly and persuasive that he really got under my skin.
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Silence is a great looking film, but a very trying experience (it also came across a bit preachy - although maybe that's difficult to avoid with a story like this). It's an interesting subject matter, but it's story didn't surprise me, and ultimately failed to get me on board with it's character's motivations. That may just be me (and maybe my New Year Eve hangover did it no favours), but I would have expected that to be the bare minimum for a film like this. Saying that, I would still recommend it for the performances, visuals, and to make up your own mind. The barbarity and excess of Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) was difficult to watch for different reasons, but there's only ever going to be one of the two I would be buying and rewatching.


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