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Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street now represents the wild, booze-soaked party before the longtime director buckled down to shoot a sprawling, intimate passion project. Scorsese's third and reportedly final religious-themed film, Silence, is twenty-five years in the making, and takes place in the time of the "Hidden Christians" in 17th Century Japan. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play Jesuit priests who volunteer to locate their mentor, played by Liam Neeson, who has reportedly lost his faith in Japan and apostatized. Deliberately paced and beautifully shot and acted, Silence is not meant for casual viewing. The subject matter is austere, and Scorsese does not shy away from intense depictions of the tortures inflicted upon discovered Christians. Though it represents a stark diversion from his gangster epics, Silence is yet another masterwork from its talented director.
Scorsese flirts with having Neeson's Father Cristovao Ferreira narrate this epic, but we soon discover he remains off screen for much of the nearly three hour running time. After a brief introduction on the religious conflict, we see Ferreira forced to watch fellow Christians burn at the stake as he decides whether or not to betray his faith to save his life and the lives of his flock. The action then moves to Macau, where young priests Sebastiao Rodrigues (Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Driver) mourn the news that Ferreira has abandoned his faith and assimilated into Japanese society. They volunteer to find their spiritual leader, and leave for Japan with an alcoholic guide, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), who becomes a recurring presence in the narrative. The young priests begin administering sacraments to Christians driven underground by a brutal samurai known as "the inquisitor," but grow apart when their teachings begin attracting violent attention.
Scorsese is a director of many talents. From psychological thrillers to gangster epics to historical dramas, the auteur rarely turns in a mediocre film. Silence follows religious epics The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, and is based on a novel by Shusaku Endo. Scorsese began developing his adaptation in the early 1990s, and the project was set to star Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio del Toro until it got stuck in development hell in the late 2000s. Shot in Taiwan, Silence benefits from the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and the dutiful editing skills of Thelma Schoonmaker. Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge provide the minimalist score. The acting is strong throughout, and Scorsese never shies from showing the meticulous and cruel torture inflicted upon Christians.
Most affecting is the grueling onslaught against Rodrigues' faith as he becomes the central character for much of the film. Again and again he witnesses those to whom he has preached lose their lives for their convictions. The cruel inquisitor wants him to renounce his love for Christ, and is not simply satisfied with the hollow formalities of stepping on a fumi-e to revoke Christianity. It is so simple, he taunts, just a quick gesture to save hundreds from torture. Rodrigues' tears and pained, stoic quiet during these atrocities expertly register on Garfield's face. The young actor, who pushed his performance almost too far into Southern genteel in Hacksaw Ridge, proves a talent here. In his limited scenes, Neeson is also quietly effective.
This is certainly not a film that entertains on the high-octane level of Scorsese's more mainstream offerings, but it is a thoroughly researched, passionately executed and thoughtfully constructed film. Silence is lengthy and deliberately paced, but there is much to appreciate in this tale of quiet outrage and oppression. The brutal, centuries-long oppression of Christians in Japan is not a story well known to American audiences. Neeson's Father Ferreira attempts to explain why Christianity does not work in Japanese society, and Garfield's Rodrigues can only marvel at how far the pair has fallen from grace. Silence ends on a bittersweet note, and viewers are left to decide whether internal reverence can overcome outward dissention.
The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Paramount is largely impressive, and offers a film-like presentation with strong-fine object detail and realistic motion. There are a couple of softer shots and some minor motion blur during pans, but the image is mostly crisp and well defined. The colors get bolder as the film moves forward, and there are some beautiful outdoor shots of lush mountains, clay temples and blue skies. Blacks are inky and nicely defined, flesh tones are accurate, and shadow detail is good. I noticed no edge enhancement or digital tinkering.
This is a quiet film, but the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is subtly effective. Dialogue is crisp, clear and without distortion, and is balanced appropriately with environmental effects and the sparse score. Waves, crowd noise and the wind waft through the surrounds, and directional dialogue is layered nicely with these effects. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release includes both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The disc is packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a textured slipcover. The only extra, Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence (24:30/HD), is a decent look at the source material, pre-production, themes, shooting and editing.
Martin Scorsese's Silence is a complex, impressive drama about Jesuit priests who travel to 17th Century Japan to find their mentor and spread the gospel at great personal risk. A tonal 180 to Scorsese's previous film, The Wolf of Wall Street, this is a challenging, rewarding film with strong acting and impressive visuals. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.