Martin Scorsese, who’s celebrating the 50th anniversary of his feature film directorial debut this year, has long since earned the right to make whatever type of film he pleases. With classics like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Departed under his belt, film aficionados have been thrilled over and over by the filmmaking master.
That said, Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is likely to satisfy only his most hardcore fans, and even they may be hard-pressed to make it through the film's stultifying 160-minute runtime. The film, set in the 1600s, follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), who travel to Japan to track down a missing priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), and continue his work.
The climate for proselytizing Christians in Japan during that time was harsh, to say the least. Those caught openly practicing Christianity or possessing Christian iconography were often tortured or put to death by the Japanese military. Rodrigues and Garrpe must try to navigate this tricky terrain with the help of friendly countrymen, with no guarantee that those assisting them won't turn on them.
What sounds like a mildly interesting plot soon turns deadly dull as Scorsese, taking a crack at writing — with the help of co-writer Jay Cocks — for the first time since 1995's Casino, takes his sweet time getting to any kind of point. The priests’ mission is seemingly abandoned almost as soon as it begins, replaced with a never-ending series of misadventures with locals.
The only thing worse than the slowness is the repetitiveness. Time and again we are shown scenes of the Japanese military demanding that Christians renounce their faith by stepping on some sort of religious symbol. Some resist, some don’t, but the same scene repeats itself so many times that whatever power it holds on first viewing diminishes exponentially.
The slowness and repetitiveness of the movie rob it of any kind of significant emotions, which makes the overwrought reactions of many of the actors all the more mystifying. Many of them are so maudlin that you’d think they were acting in some sort of soap opera instead of what’s supposed to be a prestige drama.
What seems like a dual star billing of Garfield and Driver winds up being mostly about Garfield. While he has a few moments that allow him to be showcased, he and his Japanese co-stars are brought down by the material, which keeps them stuck in a loop from which there is almost no escape.
Other than the satisfying of Scorsese’s own ego, there’s no reason Silence needed to be anywhere near as long as it is. Cutting a good hour off the running time would’ve allowed him to say everything he wanted to say without falling into the trap of monotony. Sometimes, even masters need to be told when enough is enough.