Friday, 20 January 2017

Film Review: "Silence" (2016).

"I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?"
This is the ultimate question that is asked in Silence. This religious historical drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, adapted by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō. The story follows two Catholic missionaries who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor  - at a time when Catholicism was outlawed and their presence forbidden.

In 1988, Scorsese, fresh off the controversial reception of The Last Temptation of Christ, was given the novel by the Rev. Paul Moore. Rev. Moore was the most renowned liberal Protestant Episcopal priest of his time, when he served as the Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Ironically, Scorsese did not read the novel until filming of Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990), where he played Vincent Van Gough. There, between takes and the train rides around Japan that he finally read the novel. Since then, Scorsese has said that he has read the novel many times over the next two decades. The film is considered a "passion project" for Scorsese. When asked why he retained interest in the project for over 20 years, Scorsese stated: "As you get older, ideas go and come... Silence is just something that I'm drawn to in that way. It's been an obsession, it has to be done... it's a strong, wonderful true story, a thriller in a way..." Scorsese then brought on Cocks, his friend and collaborator, to help him write an early draft of the film in the 1990s.

Scorsese intended to direct it after Gangs of New York (2002). Scorsese then began location scouting for the film, going to various location throughout Nagasaki, Japan. But when Scorsese couldn't get financing for the project, he decided instead to do The Aviator (2004). The project was originally announced to have Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael García Bernal and Benicio Del Toro cast in the lead roles, originally set to play Father Ferreira, Bernal, Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe. Ken Watanabe was also originally slated to portray a Japanese interpreter to the Jesuit priests. However, after another delay in the production and Scorsese's decision to work on Shutter Island (2010) and Hugo (2011) instead, they all dropped out of the project. They were ultimately replaced with Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Tadanobu Asano by January 2015. In December 2011, Scorsese stated that Silence would be his next film. However, in March 2012, even though other projects he had originally put on the back burner and consequently dropped out of, Scorsese signed on to do The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and opted to direct it ahead of Silence. Financing on the project began to gain momentum in May when film was picked up by Cecchi Gori Pictures. Cecchi Gori was involved in pre-production, but years of unrelated legal disputes had interrupted its association to the film. Ultimately, in August 2012, Cecchi Gori Pictures sued Scorsese over an alleged breach of contract agreements related to Silence. According to the company, Scorsese signed a written agreement to shoot the film following 1997's Kundun, and Cecchi Gori Pictures had apparently invested more than $750,000 for this purpose. However, Scorsese chose to make Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed (2006), Shutter Island, Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street. Cecchi Gori Pictures also asserted that Scorsese agreed to pay "substantial compensation and other valuable benefits" to direct the subsequent films, which he failed to do. Scorsese, via his representatives, responded that he denounced the lawsuit as a "media stunt" and a "meritless action". The lawsuit was ultimately settled in January 2014.

In April 2013, it was finally announced that Scorsese would begin production on Silence in 2014, after a reputed 23-year wait, with Emmett/Furla Films and Corsan Films financing the film. By February 2014, Scorsese had begun scouting locations in Taiwan, with filming set for the summer. Producer Irwin Winkler stated the choice to film in Taiwan was due to lower costs. Principal photography finally began in late January 2015 and concluded in mid May. Filming was completed in 73 days. Endō's official translator Professor Van C. Gessel, who has translated eight of his novels, assisted as a consultant on the film. In addition, Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, worked closely with the filmmakers to ensure an accurate portrayal of the Jesuits. According to producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, this shoot was as grueling as any she and Scorsese had ever experienced. Weather conditions in Taiwan were inhospitable due to the production being daylight-dependent. No luxuries to fall back on in terms of additional budgetary funding. Momentum for the film's marketing did not take steam until a month before the film's December limited theatrical release date. The film's premiere took place in November 2016, at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, followed by a special screening in Vatican City, where it was screened to four hundred Jesuit Priests.

The film stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto and Yōsuke Kubozuka. The cast gave spectacular performances, and perhaps the best performances of their careers. Garfield and Driver have given another career-making performances. Though only in a minor capacities, Neeson, Asano, Hinds, Tsukamoto and Kubozuka all deserve as much recognition as Garfield and Driver. However, the performance that stole the show was none other than Ogata, who gave a performance equivalent to Christoph Waltz's from Inglorious Basterds (2009). Both are equally clever, courteous, cunning, implacable, and brutal. He was my favourite character.

After decades of its long creative development, Martin Scorsese has finally brought us Silence - a thoughtful, emotionally resonant look at spirituality and human nature. Not only does it stands as one of the director's finest accomplishments, it also stands as the finest accomplishment in his entire body of work, and the finest accomplishment in modern cinema. A true masterpiece.
Simon says Silence receives:

Also, see my review for The Wolf of Wall Street.

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