What It’s About: Religious intolerance and deep themes of faith are explored in “Silence,” a grueling and dense historical drama.
Fervently directed by Martin Scorsese, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jay Cocks, this passion project is adapted from Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name.
Christianity is banned in 17th Century Japan, where the feudal military government wants to get rid of all Western influence. Jesuit missionaries attempting to convert Buddhists are in grave danger, yet minister to hidden Christians who face persecution.
Two Portuguese priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), go on a taxing mission to the Far East, trying to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has reportedly abandoned his religion.
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The Jesuit missionaries minister to devout Catholics in this harsh landscape, but when caught, are tortured — and it’s graphically depicted.
The pair, while trying to be strong in upholding Jesuit ideals, face doubt, question God’s silence in suffering, and are tested while enemies try to break them. The unbearable choice of apostasy vs. martyrdom becomes a reality in a sometimes profound, but mostly tedious work that is nearly three hours long.
Performances: Unfamiliar Japanese actors stand out in a sprawling cast. As the Inquisitor, Issei Ogata is a marvel of cunning and cruelty. Tadanobu Asano is chilling as the unsympathetic interpreter, and Yosuke Kobozuka is impressive as the weak and duplicitous guide, Kichijiro.
Garfield and Driver work best together. They both lost a considerable amount of weight to look emaciated and maintained their accents throughout.
Liam Neeson is barely in the film, but his height makes him an imposing figure when he is.
What Works: Obviously, much skill and thoughtful details went into this massive, arduous project. The labor is evident.
Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is stunning, and Dante Ferretti’s meticulous production design is striking, whether it’s the grim peasant villages or the shogun grandeur of the ruling class.
One can only imagine what a difficult shoot this film was, in a harsh environment and with its medieval setting.
What Doesn’t Work: Of course, the dramatic intensity is necessary with such subject matter, but must we watch extensive gruesome agony? The hardships are repeated and drawn out and become increasingly tough to watch.
This is not the epic masterpiece one anticipated. The film is not easy to digest and rather stifling.
One can admire Scorsese for his personal convictions and professional achievements, but one expects a great deal from him.
“Silence” fails to fire up or stoke much passion.
- Stars: ☆ ☆ ☆
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata, Tadanobu Asano
- Rated: R for disturbing violent content
- Length: 2:41