Martin Scorsese, man of God? It’s sometimes easy to forget that the profane master of mean streets, Wall Street wolves, and very bad goodfellas is also a devout Catholic —
and once considered joining the priesthood — even though he’s already made two holy epics, 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and 1997’s Kundun.
His third in a projected “faith” trilogy is a movie nearly three decades in the making, and it shows: Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name, Silence’s tale of two young Jesuit priests’ attempts to spread Christianity in 17th-century Japan is lavished with care, if not always context. In search of their onetime friend and mentor Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who vanished seven years earlier in a cleansing of Western priests, Padres Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) travel from Portugal to determine his fate and continue his mission. What they find is both more and less than they imagined: a land of exceptional natural beauty and already-reverent peasants clamoring to receive the good word, but also an iron-fisted feudal government bent on crushing the Church wherever it takes root. Steeped in doctrine and driven by deep personal conviction, the pair hurtle onward, woefully unprepared for the real-world challenges before them. (Coincidentally or not, both actors also begin to look increasingly Christlike as the film goes on: Garfield, all warm eyes and flowing hair, is the picture of a classic Sunday-school Jesus; Driver, with his xylophone sternum and Modigliani face, offers a starker likeness.)
The film is lushly shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and stocked with indelible supporting turns, including Yōsuke Kubozuka as a tragic Judas figure and Tadanobu Asano as a shrewd translator. But at 160 stately, glacial minutes, it’s also an endurance test — one that can feel like its own act of faith to pass. B