By Evan Slead
December 10, 2016 at 06:15 PM EST
Paramount Pictures
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Martin Scorsese’s Silence may not be on most audiences’ radars yet, but critics are already lauding it as an achievement for the veteran director, despite its shortcomings.

Releasing Dec. 23, Scorsese’s latest film tackles religion in the face of adversity and God’s silence in times of unspeakable pain. Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, Silence follows two priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who smuggle themselves into Japan during a time of extreme Christian persecution in the newly unified country. Their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has reportedly renounced his faith, causing the priests to investigate why. “Scorsese’s version is, to a bit of a fault, almost exclusively concerned with the issue reflected by the book’s title — that is, God’s deafening, soul-churning, doubt-and-madness producing silence in the face of both endless human suffering and the devout’s unceasing efforts to receive some form of divine guidance as regards to their earthly endeavors,” said Todd McCarthy in his review for The Hollywood Reporter.

While many reviews have praised the visuals and overall impressive script, the recurring thread between opinions remains the lack of edge and directorial mastery the Departed Oscar winner typically brings to each of his projects. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn praises the “smart and sophisticated” ability of the film to view behind the lens of a devout religious follower, but poses “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.”

See what critics are saying about Silence in the review excerpts below. 

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)

“Ultimately, then, despite the bumpiness of the initial stretch and the intense but narrow conception of the leading roles, Silence gets to where it wants to go, which is to stand as Scorsese’s own reckoning with the religion he was raised in and takes seriously, and which has arguably fueled so much of the inner turmoil and angst that has marked much of his work; this can rightly be regarded as a considerable feat. Germinating — one might even say festering — inside him for 26 years (Jay Cocks and Scorsese wrote their first draft of the script eons ago), 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.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“And yet, judged in broadly cinematic terms, Silence is not a great movie, despite having been directed by one of the medium’s greatest masters at a point of great maturity (this is the last film one might expect to immediately follow the bacchanalian excess of The Wolf of Wall Street). Though undeniably gorgeous, it is punishingly long, frequently boring, and woefully unengaging at some of its most critical moments. It is too subdued for Scorsese-philes, too violent for the most devout, and too abstruse for the great many moviegoers who such an expensive undertaking hopes to attract (which no doubt explains why Scorsese was compelled to cast The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield and two Star Wars stars).”

Robert Abele (The Wrap)

“Technically, the movie is another triumph for Scorsese’s imagemaking acumen, with Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s sets and costumes grounding a beautiful yet harsh land of mountains and mist, village poverty and feudal wealth. The cautious camerawork and tone is exactingly attuned to the intertwining of grace, peril, and suffering in a beautiful yet harsh land.

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.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)

“By no means a masterwork, Silence nevertheless displays the first-rate craftsmanship. However, it’s a surprisingly subdued approach to a story filled with vicious struggles involving men wandering the wilderness at their wits’ end, avoiding perils such as torture by boiling water and decapitation. (Even so, it’s less violent than the 1971 version; both are adapted from Shusaku Endo’s book.) Silence is a haunting, immersive experience that, were it not for a handful of flaws, would rank among the director’s grandest epics.”

Robbie Collin (The Telegraph)

“That Scorsese could have made this plangent, scalding work of religious art so soon after The Wolf of Wall Street is inconceivable. Based on a 1966 novel, Chinmoku, by the Japanese Catholic writer Shusako Endo (already masterfully adapted once for the screen in 1977 in its original language by Masahiro Shinoda), it’s as soul-pricklingly attuned to matters transcendent and eternal as that previous film was drenched in the short-lived and sticky pleasures of the profane.

It’s the kind of work a great filmmaker can only pull off with a lifetime’s accrued expertise behind him. And its representation of death as something faced alone, no matter which collective causes your life may have stood for, gives it a capital-Fs Final Film air that is itself spiritually bracing (though Scorsese is reportedly poised to shoot his 25th, The Irishman, in February).”

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  • 161 minutes
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