Silence (Blu-ray Review)

This past winter gave us the latest film from Martin Scorsese. Silence garnered strong reviews and made a number of top ten lists, but was not able to find much of an audience in theaters or score any major awards, beyond an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. That’s not necessarily unexpected, but I do expect time to be quite kind to what Scorsese managed to accomplish here. It’s a film I certainly haven’t stopped thinking about and now that it’s on Blu-ray, I’ll be curious to see what the audience perception of this lengthy drama becomes.




Scorsese has never backed away from involving religion in his films. We’ve seen overt attempts to tackle his perception of certain topics like in The Last Temptation of Christ. There have also been instances where his characters are given extra dimensions based on their religion, like with Mean Streets. Silence is a strong push back into overt territory and he challenges himself by addressing the perils of devotion to a belief in a manner that strips him of many qualities associated with his films. The result is a bleak and solemn challenge to the audience that can expect a level of detail and committed performances, while also being placed in a troubling scenario with the characters we follow.

Based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence tells the story of two Portuguese Catholic priests in the 17th century who traveled to Japan in an effort to locate their mentor, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson). These two priests, Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), have been given word that Ferreira has succumbed to torture and committed apostasy (the act of renouncing one’s religion). This, of course, means finding out the truth, as well as performing their own duties for the villages they encounter.

While Silence looks about as good as any Scorsese movie can, thanks to impressive cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, it is amazing to see how the 74-year old director does almost everything he can to remove his signature stamp from the film. While it would be hard not to recall similar works such as ‘Last Temptation’ or Kundun, this film operates on its own level with a strong reliance on the meditative nature of what we are seeing. Certain familiar elements come up, such as Garfield’s narration, but much of the film locks us into the world where we are given constant reminders of what truly matters – the pressure and burden of maintaining conviction.

This is certainly a period film, but it’s far from the spectacle found in others. Costumes and décor make their appearance, but the depiction of 17th-century Japan largely amounts to scrappy villages and lots of scenery. This does include the oceans, which hardly seem like a way for the soul to be cleansed in a film like this. The journey we go on means watching various devotees be pounded by the current, while strapped to crosses. However, the film also doesn’t sensationalize the violence. Silence has the eye of Scorsese, but from a minimalist’s viewpoint.

There is a throughline in all of this, as we watch the priests go on their journey and inevitably meet up with Neeson’s fallen character. However, the journey, while lengthy, provides the sense of struggle an audience may need to cinematically get to in order to be on the same page as Garfield (who is ostensibly the film’s lead). It’s why a sweeping score is absent to speed things up, as Silence prefers a more subtle approach that feels like the ambient noises gathered to create some kind of mild melody.

In reaching Neeson, the film becomes even more interesting, as well as more engaging. If it is something of a large buy-in to go through the film’s midsection, it is worth it to finally encounter Neeson’s defeated Ferreira, along with the various important figures that ruled over this Edo period. It is here the screenplay by Scorsese and Jay Cocks really sinks into what has been on the director’s mind. Rodigues finds himself in the ultimate challenge to prove how far he’ll go to preserve his belief. It also means believably taking issue with what he and his ilk attempted to force on others, only to now face a sense of cruel irony in the most intense form of backlash.

With all that is going on, the actors certainly never lost sight of the intensity required to pull off these roles. Driver shed many pounds to portray the gaunt and haughtier of the two priests. Neeson is a towering figure who manages to remove so much of himself to play as broken down as possible. Garfield is terrific as far as his level of commitment, even if it means taking on the hallmark of donning a period film-friendly accent for the sake of the cause (Neeson doesn’t even bother).

It’s not all about the major Hollywood names either. The great Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano brings a great, malevolent touch to his interpreter character. Shinya Tsukamoto exudes proper confidence as the devoted Mkichi. Yosuke Kubozuka is the closest thing to the film’s sense of humor (however dark), as Kichijiro, a tragic coward who lives to sell out others multiple times throughout the film.

As a passion project, Scorsese has dived into Silence with a mind to continue working out the conundrums he finds in his own spirituality as well as put something on a screen that communicates true cinema. It has seemingly little intention of playing up commercial qualities, but it undeniably delivers a variety of ideas that can be taken in well with the right setting. This is Silence after all and holding onto one’s thoughts while taking in such an experience means yielding to Scorsese’s design. Fortunately, his intention is not to provide a torturous experience, just one that allows for the piece of mind through extreme measures.



Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: Paramount’s Blu-ray presentation for their latest prestige Scorsese film is pretty astounding, as it should be. The detailed work in presenting this period film reflects well thanks to this stellar Blu-ray transfer. Some great imagery involving the landscape comes in clearly, with the use of weather providing even more examples of just how sharp the image can be.

Depth: Thanks to the scope of this film, the positioning of various characters does a fine job of reflecting how strong the level of dimensionality can be here. It pays off well for this Blu-ray.

Black Levels: Black levels are appropriately dark and deep. No signs of crush here.

Color Reproduction: While the colors featured in this film are not abundant, the splashes we see are vivid and bright to an appropriate degree. This is a moody film, but the latter half certainly grows a bit more in terms of pop.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are solid here. The textures register strongly, as we see plenty of detail in the characters. In particular, the bodies of Garfield and Driver go through significant changes during the film, which plays well in terms of what we are able to see on this disc.

Noise/Artifacts: This disc is clean.


Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: The audio transfer for this film is a great way to portray how less can be more. There is a sense of minimalism going on with the film’s soundtrack, despite the use of score here. We get a log of quieter scenes with scant dialogue and only the ambient noise coming through. It all sounds great and does a fine job reflecting what the film is supposed to sound like.

Low Frequency Extension: Thanks to the roar of the ocean in some key scenes, the LFE channel gets a few opportunities to effectively come to life.

Surround Sound Presentation: A good balance is found on this track. Given the heavy use of ambient noise to fill in much of the soundtrack, the various channels are used well on this lossless track to reflect just that. The rear channels helped to provide an immersive experience, while the front and center channels take a majority of work involving music and some other elements.

Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue comes through loud and clear.


I guess I could have seen this coming. Scorsese seems less and less inclined to dig into his films at this stage of his career (despite the reissues and new features found on many of his classics). Regardless, there is still one extra that provides some insight.

Features Include:

  • Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence (HD, 24:30) – This featurette looks at the source book, Scorsese’s investment into the book, the film’s history, the themes and more. It’s a bit longer than the average EPK, so you get just enough out of this, despite how much more could have come from a commentary or anything else.
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film



Silence is one of the best films you likely didn’t see last year. Regardless of one’s faith, I found the film to be a fascinating look at what it takes to be challenged by their own beliefs, let alone what to take from how others find a plausible reason to argue against you. It may be a long look at this struggle, but it is certainly worth it to see a master craftsman deal with such heavy thematic material. The Blu-ray does proper justice to this feature as far as the audio and video, though I can only wish there were more special features to go around. For Scorsese fans and those looking to take in ambitious dramatic cinema, Silence has plenty to offer.

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