Despite the year ending soon, there are still a number of notable films that have yet to be released in 2016. Among these is Martin Scorsese’s Silence, starring Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, and Liam Neeson. The film has been a 30-year passion project for the legendary filmmaker, one that fits less in line with his famous gangster films like Goodfellas and Mean Streets, and more with his spiritual outings like Kundun or The Last Temptation of Christ.
The film won’t be released until December 23rd in New York and Los Angeles, just in time for consideration in end-of-the-year awards, before expanding its release in January. Despite the delay, a number of critics have already seen the film, and hype for Silence has been steadily growing over the past few weeks since those first initial screenings.
Today the review embargo lifted and with it, the first wave of reviews were released. Many praised the film’s technical prowess and the internal struggles of its main characters. We’ve assembled some SPOILER FREE excerpts, but links for the full reviews are provided for those interested.
THR – Todd McCarthy
Silence, more successfully than not, artfully addresses the core issue of its maker’s lifelong religious struggle. He has flirted with and danced around the subject in many of his other films, most often those featuring transgressive and violent characters, but of his explicitly religious dramas, specifically including Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ, this is, by a considerable distance, the most eloquent and coherent.
Collider – Brian Formo
The result is one of the most profound films of Martin Scorsese’s career. It conjures a feeling that might be familiar to those who worship or meditate, because Silence is the type of movie that you go to bed respecting but wake up loving.
Variety – Peter Debruge
The film’s last hour is by far its most challenging, as Scorsese goes out of his way to avoid some of the sweeping, free-associative techniques Malick has innovated for spiritual cinema, turning instead to the austere model of Bresson, Dreyer, and others that “Last Temptation” screenwriter Paul Schrader once described as “transcendental cinema,” in which powerless protagonists struggle against forces beyond their control. Whereas Endō’s novel allows omniscient access to Rodrigues’ deep internal conflict, the film leaves audiences at arm’s length, forcing us to scrutinize Garfield’s face for psychological insights that, for most, are too complex to expect us to interpret on our own.
The Wrap – Robert Abele
Whether filming a conversation, or private distress, or open torture, the movie is hushed to the point of off-putting reverence. But if Scorsese isn’t exactly Ozu when it comes to effortlessly capturing the unseen, he’s also not Mel Gibson making bloody physical agony the star. With “Silence,” Scorsese’s ambition to dramatize a relentless inner struggle is always admirable.
IndieWire – Eric Kohn
In late-period Scorsese terms, the new movie has neither the edge of “The Wolf of Wall Street” nor the majestic vision of “Hugo.” Instead, it falls closer to the eeriness of “Shutter Island,” another imperfect story that overcame many of its shortcomings with stirring visuals and a cooly intelligent air. “Silence” is a smart and sophisticated look at the internal struggles of a true believer, with a masterful last shot that suggests those struggles never end.
New York Daily News – Stephen Whitty
“Silence” is a slowly unfolding, deeply thoughtful film about questioning yourself. About questioning authority. About taking stock of where you’ve failed as a human being, and wondering how you can make amends — to yourself, to others, and to God. It will seem like a change of pace to some. To those who really know Scorsese’s art, it’s a coming home.
As with most of Scorsese’s spiritual films, the early reviews have praised the filmmaker’s technical prowess, but the film’s dramatization of religious and spiritual themes have met varying degrees of success. Some call it one of his most profound and deeply personal films to date, while others have said its attempt at visualizing the internal conflict of its lead protagonists is only semi-successful. The same goes for the film’s acting. A number of critics celebrate the work of Garfield, Driver, and Neeson in it, and others lament the inability of the performances to work within the film’s complex issues.
The consensus seems to be that this is, at the very least, yet another striking visual and technical achievement for Scorsese, whose long and impressive filmography has resulted in the most beloved and critically-acclaimed filmmakers that cinema has seen. His 30-year fight to bring Silence to the big screen has paid off in that regard, but whether or not it’s the spiritual or thematic home run that he wanted it to be is subject to debate. It’s shaping up to be one of the biggest wild cards in these last few weeks of the year, and considering its divisive political and religious themes, it will be interesting to see how well Silence is able to resonate with general moviegoers.