by Roger Friedman
Martin Scorsese has ambushed the Oscar race with Silence, a Masterwork movie about faith and ideas that rocks everything we’ve been dealing with. Andrew Garfield may win the Oscar for best actor. But this is the Big Idea movie Hollywood has lacked for some time.
It’s strange, too, because the word out of Los Angeles on Sunday was that “Silence” was boring or something. I don’t know who those people could be who thought that. “Silence” is a meditation on theology, but it’s also a completely engrossing, absorbing movie in which Big Ideas are made accessible in dialogue and visuals to the point where I often found myself on the edge of my seat.
And that’s pretty interesting since this is faith based movie and I am neither Catholic nor Christian and don’t have a tremendous interest in Jesus. But “Silence” doesn’t require that– it’s a universal message that I think will be embraced by every intelligent moviegoer. Not only, there is some humor, and there is Scorsese violence including one scene where a man literally loses his head.
But this is Japan in the 1600s, and it’s a savage, brutal place where Christianity is being rebuked. “Silence” is based on the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō about two Portugese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) who are sent to Japan as missionaries. They are following in the footsteps of their mentor, played by Liam Neeson. Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks do something really interesting here, because they are allowing everyone to speak in English but they are not English speakers. At one point it’s explained very elegantly that it’s Japanese and Portugese being spoken and that the priests are being translated by one of the Japanese.
Driver and Leeson are each very, very good but the movie hinges on Garfield. He’s in almost every scene. And what’s fascinating is that Garfield ( who is Jewish in real life by the way) is in the season’s other Christian movie, “Hacksaw Rdige.” But where that movie is hackneyed and dopey with heavy on the nose Catholic imagery, “Silence” is sublime. Garfield’s work in “Silence” is superior because of the writing and directing, and “Silence” is the movie for which he will get his Oscar nomination.
Scorsese says he’s been obsessed with “Silence” for about 40 years, and worked and worked to get it made. In between of course he became famous and celebrated for his gangster movies and remakes, gems like “The Age of Innocence.” I asked him last night, was this subject always on your mind? The answer was “Yes.” Scorsese’s own devout faith just blooms here in a way that casual fans of “Taxi Driver” or “Goodfellas” will not expect. Like one of those films, “Silence” moves– it’s certainly never boring.
I may be wrong. But this is what I think right now. This has been a good season for Oscar films and there are plenty– “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “20th Century Women,” “Arrival,” “Sully.” But “Silence” is different, it’s the Big Picture. It’s a discussion of who we are and how we got here. In a world where religious persecution is more prevalent than ever, it’s also about who we can be.
One last thing: “Silence” features a Japanese actor named Issei Ogata who will be the Christoph Waltz of this film. He’s a total break out, and should get Best Supporting Actor nods. He doesn’t speak English, but we met him last night and he’s willing. He gets very special mention.