April 4, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SILENCE

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Yosuke Kubozuka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Ciaran Hinds, Issey Ogata. Directed by Martin Scorsese (2016, 160 min).

What makes Martin Scorsese so great - besides impeccable narrative and technical skills - is that he's never directed a film that isn't worth watching. Not that everything he's made has been stupendous, but even his weakest efforts (for me, that would be Bringing Out the Dead) reflect a sincerity you simply don't see from most mainstream directors. His pictures always feel like they are labors of love.

Silence is no exception. Though its audience appeal is probably more limited than the flamboyant epics Scorsese is typically associated with, this one is just as ambitious in scope and ultimately a rewarding, if somewhat challenging, viewing experience.

"Francisco...my Spidey Senses are tingling. Or maybe it was that burrito I had for lunch."
Andrew Garfield is Sebastiao Rodriguez, a 17th Century Jesuit priest who's told that his mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has apostatized (renounced his faith) after being tortured in Japan. Ferreira was there on a mission to spread Christianity, which Japanese authorities view as a dangerous threat to their own culture and therefore outlawed. Thousands of Christians have been tortured and killed over the years.

While the church believes Ferreira is missing because he is either dead or has truly renounced Christianity, Rodriguez and fellow priest Francsico Garupe (Adam Driver) are convinced their mentor's faith is unshakable and journey to Japan to try and find him. With the aide of a drunken fisherman, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), the two priests sneak into Japan, only to discover villages of converted Christians who still worship in secret. They welcome the priests with open arms, even though doing so puts their own lives at risk because a samurai known as The Inquisitor continues searching the island for anyone practicing the "outlaw faith." He routinely tortures and kills anyone who refuses to renounce Christianity. Though Silence is seldom very graphic, the variety of horrific ways these people die is difficult to watch.

Andrew Garfield in The Barry Gibb Story.
Rodriguez and Garupe split up to avoid capture and continue their search for Ferreira. Rodriguez is eventually caught - betrayed by Kichijiro - and imprisoned in Nagasaki along with a bunch of other Christians. His faith is severely tested when they insist he apostatize in order the save, not only his own life, but those of the other religious prisoners. He also discovers that Ferreira has been living in Nagasaki this entire time and did indeed renounce Christianity. Their confrontation not only has the viewer questioning Rodriguez' stoic dedication and the nature of the Jesuits' mission, it's also the high point of the entire film, giving us a lot to think about. How the Japanese government chooses to deal with Christians is unjustifiable, yet at the same time, we're led to understand why this new religion is seen as an invasive threat to their culture. Similarly, Rodriguez' steadfast convictions are supremely admirable, but it's also clear he's unwilling to accept any "truth" other than what he's been taught. Has sort of a timely ring, doesn't it?

Like some of Scorsese's other "passion projects" (he's been trying to adapt Shusaku Endo's novel for years), Silence requires a certain amount of dedicated commitment from the viewer. While beautifully shot and wonderful to look at, the film is long and very deliberately paced. Though the most traditionally plot-driven film he's made since Shutter Island, Scorsese is not interested in providing easy answers to the many questions his story raises. Additionally, we are presented with characters far too complex to simply be labeled "good" or "evil."

Is it one of Scorsese's best? Well, there's no easy answer to that, either. His films are so varied that one can't really compare Silence to, say, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. But like those classics, it's one that might haunt you long after it's over.

FEATURETTE: "Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence" - a making-of featurette featuring cast & crew interviews.

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