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‘Silence’: Will Academy Voters Embrace Martin Scorsese’s Passion Project?

Early Sunday afternoon, “Silence” star Issei Ogata came close to taking the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.’s supporting actor prize for his work in Martin Scorsese’s latest. He ultimately landed in the runner-up spot, deferring to Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight.” But a new name had been added to an already wide-open contest nevertheless.

Scorsese, meanwhile, was finally unspooling his opus for West Coast audiences. “Silence” set up shop first on the Paramount lot and later at the Fox Bruin movie palace in Westwood, packing in audiences of guild members, Academy voters and journalists eager to absorb the final prestige awards season offering of the season.

Did they get a home run contender?

It’s hard to say. A combination of tough subject matter and an inflated running time could make it a dicey prospect. Variety Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge batted it around with me a little in last week’s episode of “Playback,” but reviews remain embargoed for now.

The film is certainly a player in categories like costume design and production design. Rodrigo Prieto’s breathtaking cinematography, particularly in the first half of the film, will no doubt put him in the conversation for his first Oscar win. And indeed, Ogata’s colorful performance could pop for the Academy’s actors branch.

Andrew Garfield provides a strong emotional anchor for the story, but he contends with himself in “Hacksaw Ridge,” a film that will probably be more well-liked on the whole.

Beyond that, just at first blush, nothing feels as promising as it might have previously felt on paper. “Silence” is a passion project for Scorsese, but that passion won’t translate universally. He’s crafted a glacial work of intense introspection that forces the viewer to marinate for 160 minutes. It’s “Heart of Darkness” meets “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” and very much of a piece with his previous explorations of faith, “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Kundun” — two films that were hit and miss with the Academy.

So the jury is still out on this one. It will ultimately depend on how voters take to a movie as unforgiving as this in this particular climate, and that’s a very difficult thing to quantify at this stage.

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