‘Silence’ reviews: Will Oscars love Martin Scorsese’s religious epic as much as critics do?

Martin Scorsese‘s long-awaited religious epic “Silence” opened on December 23, appropriately enough just two days before Christians across the Globe celebrate the birth of Christ, whom Scorsese wrestles with in this film. A nearly three-hour drama about Jesuit priests questioning their faith in 17th century Japan could be a hard sell to say the least, but critics are happy to follow wherever Scorsese leads. As of this writing the film has scored 83 on MetaCritic and 94% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes.

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“Silence” follows a pair of Portuguese priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who search for their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) in Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed. The film is being especially praised for its strong visual style. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Argo”) “strongly evoke a physical setting as forbidding and inhospitable as the authorities who rule it.” Scorsese is more restrained and reverent than in his faster-paced efforts like “Goodfellas,” “The Departed” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and here demonstrates “poetry and economy of filmmaking.”

The actors have also been praised, including Garfield, whose face becomes a “mask of suffering” in this film as well as another religiously driven drama this season, “Hacksaw Ridge.” And in a standout supporting performance is Japanese actor Issei Ogata, who steals scenes as the sadistic but eccentric Inquisitor Inoue. He “truly shines,” and for his efforts he finished second for Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

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Elsewhere “Silence” has struggled on the awards circuit thus far, blanked at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. That might partly be a consequence of the film’s late screenings and release, so the door is still open for Oscar nominations, much like it was for “American Sniper,” which got off to a slow start in the 2014 awards derby but ended up with six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.

So do the rave reviews for “Silence” make it a top Oscar contender? Check out some of the reviews below, and discuss this film and more in our forums.

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Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter): “The film is shot in a restrained, classical style, with very few of the director’s virtuoso camera and editing moves … Working on very rugged locations in Taiwan, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto strongly evoke a physical setting as forbidding and inhospitable as the authorities who rule it; the visuals incorporate beauty where it is to be found, but mainly inject it with a sense of nature’s sublime indifference and potential for terror.”

David Edelstein (Vulture): “What won’t be controversial is the poetry and economy of Scorsese’s filmmaking … Given his starring role as a conscientious objector in ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ this is the second time in the last two months in which Garfield has found himself courting religious martyrdom amid extreme carnage, his face a mask of suffering. He has hereby earned the right to do two or three lousy but high-paying rom-coms without a peep of complaint.”

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Stephen Whitty (New York Daily News): “The epic, astounding ‘Silence,’ however, puts faith firmly up front, as it dramatizes the persecution of Catholics in 17th-century Japan … It’s the Asian cast that truly shines, though — especially Issei Ogata as the grand inquisitor who realizes the best way to hurt Garfield’s priest is not to torture his flesh, but to make him question his faith.”

Jesse Cataldo (Slant): “‘Silence’ works as a standalone portrait of personal crisis, a staggering recreation of a struggle familiar to even those whose lives exist entirely outside of religious stricture, the fight to hold onto some vestige of belief in a world seemingly designed to shake and shatter our moral foundations.”

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