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Silence: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Silence (2016) movie poster Silence

Theatrical Release: December 23, 2016 / Running Time: 161 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Martin Scorsese / Writers: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese (screenplay); Shűsaku Endô (novel)

Cast: Andrew Garfield (Father Sebastian Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Father Francisco Garupe), Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter), Ciarán Hinds (Valignano), Issey Ogata (Old Samurai/Inoue), Shinya Tsukamoto (Mokichi), Yoshi Oida (Ichizo), Yôsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), Liam Neeson (Father Ferreira), Nana Komatsu (Monica), Ryo Kase (Juan)

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There are a handful of filmmakers who can grab the movie world's attention with everything they direct. Martin Scorsese is certainly one of them. Scorsese has been making films for well over half of his life and at 74, he shows no sign of slowing down or losing his touch.
Five of his last six narrative theatrical films have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and the sixth was Shutter Island, an acclaimed and commercially potent February release that is firmly situated on IMDb's Top 250 list.

In light of that streak, the first four months of the industry's half-year 2016-17 awards season had one big wild card hanging in the distance: Silence, a film that Scorsese had been developing for over a quarter-century. Originally pegged for a late 2015 release, Silence took longer to complete and whether it would even make it out by the end of 2016 remained a real question even after the season was underway. The same questions hung over Scorsese's previous effort, The Wolf of Wall Street, which snuck into the 2013 Oscar race and wound up doing well despite not being completed or seen by anyone far in advance. Of course, Scorsese doesn't make movies to win Oscars, but it makes sense for his films to be released at year's end, when serious and artistic cinema briefly comes into fashion. Silence is about as serious and artistic as any 2016 release and it is also one of the year's better films, even if anyone could predict it was unlikely to do the big business that Scorsese's collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio have.

The arrival of Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) in Japan gives hope to those who have been practicing Christianity in secret.

Adapted from the 1966 Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is set in 17th century Japan. There, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) have been challenged by religious persecution. Christianity is outlawed in the nation and recently that law has been enforced, with believers forced to either apostate (renounce their faith) or suffer punishment, from torture to death. Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), the mentor of our two lead priests, has gone missing and word is that he has committed apostasy to save his life.

Not believing the reports, Rodrigues and Garupe have a guilt-ridden, seemingly unreliable guide Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) bring them to Nagasaki, where they find small villages of devout locals who practice their Catholic faith in secrecy. The priests' arrival fills the faithful with hope, but also brings danger to them, as Japan's inquisitor cracks down on the worshippers, making examples of some and pushing Rodrigues to abandon his calling.

Scorsese has often spoken about his Catholic faith and his beliefs have sometimes played a role in the stories he's told, most obviously his controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. Nearly thirty years after that, Scorsese commits to exploring the nature of faith and what happens when religious convictions collide with firm state persecution. It's a fascinating story based on real events that takes advantage of Scorsese's copious filmmaking gifts. In tone, setting, characterization, and composition, Silence couldn't be much further from Wolf of Wall Street. But, as in that nearly contemporary tale of white collar crime, Scorsese opts for an epic runtime and some deep reflections on morality and human nature.

Although prominently marketed, Liam Neeson mostly focuses in one arresting scene as the Portuguese Jesuits' long-missing mentor Ferreira.

Between this and Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge released three months earlier, Andrew Garfield has cemented himself as a highly compelling leading man. The promise of Garfield's supporting role in The Social Network has come to fruition the past couple of years since he shed the baggage of playing Spider-Man in Sony's hasty and underappreciated reboots.
While good in Hacksaw Ridge (which earned him his first Oscar nomination), Garfield is great here, convincing you as a man of the cloth with unshakable faith who holds great love for believers while clinging to the hope that Japan can accept Christianity. Neeson is solid in limited screentime, though he makes no attempt to transform his Irish brogue into a Portuguese accent. Driver is not so focal, which surprises given that he shockingly lost 50 pounds for his role, a very apparent transformation. But the film belongs to Garfield, who physically and emotionally turns this persecuted protagonist into a Christ-like figure.

Silence is shot almost entirely on 35mm film and you can tell that. Scorsese, who embraced 3D technology on 2011's enchanting Hugo, opts for an old school aesthetic that suits the material perfectly. Silence kind of looks like a film from the late '80s or early '90s, but it also has a modern mindset and relevance about it. As the title suggests, this is a movie that favors quiet; the rustling of popcorn bags is an unusually genuine distraction here. It also takes its time, allowing you to soak in atmosphere and appreciate the length of the pressure that both Rodrigues and his followers are asked to endure once imprisoned.

Scorsese's film has extremely different expectations for moviegoers' patience levels than his contemporaries do. Some may grow bored or restless. I believe I spotted one or two walkouts at the theater, which are rare occurrences at free advance screenings. Many others will not at all be intrigued by this period story, performed by a largely Japanese and unknown cast and the star of The Amazing Spider-Man. But Silence is full of rewards. It is a powerful and moving tale, with beautiful cinematography, a knockout closing shot, and a rich lead performance.

Had I been able to see this before voting in the Online Film Critics Society's annual awards, I very likely would have included Garfield as one of my three Best Actor nominees. But the film had more than just its late screening dates and lack of screener mailings to explain why it barely featured in the biggest awards show, no matter how cinematically deserving it may be. Thick accents, regular subtitles, a cast with few white faces, the religious content, and the nearly three-hour runtime all may prove a tough combination for the typical Academy member, or the average moviegoer for that matter, to embrace.

A remorseful Japanese Christian (Yôsuke Kubozuka) confesses his sins to Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) in one of the more breathtaking shots of Martin Scorsese's "Silence."

Both demographics managed to resist the film. The Oscars bestowed a single nomination upon the film, for Best Cinematography, confirming that they saw it but didn't love it. Meanwhile, moviegoers avoided Silence to a perhaps even greater degree than expected. Despite Paramount expanding the film all the way to 1,580 theaters, following Oscar nominations, the film never cracked the weekly top 10, never getting any higher than 16th (which it did on the weekend before its biggest expansion). It ended up grossing just over $7 million, making it Scorsese's lowest-grossing non-documentary since 1997's Kundun.

Silence hits DVD and Blu-ray at the end of the month, with Paramount not bothering to give the low-grossing film a 4K Ultra HD edition.

Silence: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (1 BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


It's been a very long time since a Martin Scorsese film looked like less than terrific and Silence's Oscar-nominated cinematography kindly comes to Blu-ray in fine fashion, as you would expect from a studio that consistently puts out nice-looking discs. The sharp, vivid 2.40:1 visuals leave absolutely nothing to be desired, except perhaps for the detail that only 4K Ultra HD could supply. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix lives up to the title's promise, but when there are sounds, they have the impact, immediacy, and breadth intended. Burned-in subtitles translate the occasional foreign dialogue. Oddly, Paramount offers no Portuguese dub or subtitles, even though they often do and have extra reason to do so here.

Adam Driver, who lost hella weight for his limited screentime, discusses working with a legendary director in "Martin Scorsese's Journey Into 'Silence.'" Martin Scorsese directs Japanese cast members in the Blu-ray's making-of documentary.


On Blu-ray, Silence is joined by "extra", not extras.
But that's okay, because the lone inclusion is "Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence", a thorough 24˝-minute making-of documentary. It details Scorsese's nearly thirty-year run to get this made, the cast and their weight-shedding nutrition plan, the international filming locations, and the subject of faith (complete with comments from the production's Jesuit consultant). While surely many would have appreciated a Scorsese commentary or deleted scenes, this comprehensive piece does stand as a satisfying complement to the film.

The static menu simply attaches score to a poster design. No trailers play before it loads, but your mileage may vary.

A Digital HD insert doubling as an ad for Paramount's recent Martin Scorsese Blu-rays is all that joins the plain blue disc inside the eco-friendly keepcase that is topped by a nicely-textured slipcover.

Japanese authorities' enforcement of the law that banishes Christianity puts Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) in a difficult position.


Ignored by moviegoers and largely overlooked by awards organizations, Martin Scorsese's Silence is a masterful film both technically and dramatically. This historical exploration of faith demands thinking like few new movies do and that may have hurt its prospects. But it is absolutely worth a look and Paramount's Blu-ray presents the film well with solid picture and sound plus a substantial making-of documentary. Now is the time to discover what you missed in theaters!

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Martin Scorsese:
The Last Temptation of ChristThe Wolf of Wall StreetThe Color of MoneyHugoGoodfellasTaxi DriverNew York StoriesShine a Light

Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge99 HomesThe Amazing Spider-Man | Adam Driver: Star Wars: The Force AwakensWhile We're YoungFrances Ha
New to Disc / Oscar Nominees: ArrivalMoonlightManchester by the SeaJackie20th Century WomenMoanaFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemFences
Of Gods and MenApocalytpoThe Thin Red LineLast Days in the DesertNoah

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Reviewed March 19, 2017.

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