Rated: R for some disturbing violent content. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 23, 2016 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
Martin Scorsese studied in the seminary before turning his attention to filmmaking, but the influence has been felt in much of his oft-praised oeuvre: from Taxi Driver to The Departed to the recent wild satire The Wolf of Wall Street.
Another lengthy religious-based film after The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun is Silence starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson (instead of Daniel Day-Lewis who got the Lincoln job instead) and set in 17th Century Japan (filming on-location in Taiwan, and much of the dialogue is in Japanese).
The plot devised for this artistically classical work surrounding faith with strong echoes of guilt and redemption (drawn from a 1966 novel by a Japanese Catholic, Shusako Endo) that has gestated for quite some time by septuagenarian Scorsese and collaborator Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) is the search for Neeson's Fr. Ferreira.
Apparently, Ferreira has fallen into a state of apostasy, going native (having perhaps ended up in Nagasaki) with a Japanese woman according to Ciaran Hinds' Fr. Valignano. So, it is up to two Portuguese Jesuit missionary priests, Driver's gaunt Fr. Garrpe and Garfield's Fr. Rodrigues to trek and get to the bottom of this unfathomable situation. Especially after early voice-overs regarding the taboo of Christianity in Japan and what those caught doing so having been made an example of in pleasing ways to the Shogun.
This thoughtful, if repetitive, but finally impactful historical epic with Neeson finally branding his presence in three later scenes does connect in an agonizing, self-flagellating way (perhaps at times with intensity felt in Mel Gibson's violent, though very profitable The Passion of the Christ). A personal inferno or even a purgatory is what Garrpe and Rodrigues must endure after being guided by Kichijiro (an unctuous Yosuke Kubozuka, recalling a certain notorious disciple) and helping the underground to propagate their tenets at night. Tadanobu Asano is key as an interpreter.
Driver (Midnight Special and Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens) and Garfield (who impressed many in Gibson's recent visceral Hacksaw Ridge as a heroic pacifist of a soldier) may not have the most compelling interpersonal bond as the conflicted, disparate, desperate clerics, but each is a very watchable presence, whether reactive or proactively. Garfield's Rodrigues may be the more interesting in his Christ-like arc, especially from a psychological angle as the title comes into play throughout; notably in dealing with the imposing, iniquitous Inquisitor (an effective Issei Ogata).
In essence, Scorsese and Cocks reverently find solace from Endo with an evocative production abetted by the likes of lenser Rodrigo Pieto and editor Thelma Schoonmaker to make many images (like those with Biblical overtones) percolate in the mind with a demanding subject in the midst of persecution and imprisonment. The provocative, if arduous sounds of "Silence" modulate transcendentally with the loftier struggles pertinent to the iconic auteur to again project subtle grace under pressure.