Rated R, 161 minutes
It's well-known by now that acclaimed, Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese once had aspirations to attend seminary to go into the ministry, and also surprising given how dark some of Scorsese's films can be. He channels his faith in the exquisitely powerful, masterfully directed new drama "Silence" that tells the story of two priests and missionaries who find a test of their faith in Japan hundreds of years ago. It's not perfect - it's too long and redundant - but the strong performances and production values make it worthwhile.
In the seventeenth century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson), who had committed apostasy after being tortured. The story takes place in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638) of Japanese Roman Catholics against the Tokugawa shogunate.
Directed by Scorsese, he co-writes the script with Jay Cocks, who co-wrote "Gangs of New York" and "The Age of Innocence" that's based on the 1966 historical novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, "Silence" is an affecting yet flawed portrait of how God can subtly work through adversity of a believer. It bears some similarities to the 1986 drama "The Mission" starring Robert DeNiro, though set in different locals (that film's locale is Portugal) and slightly different time periods, and like that film, "Silence" has some sluggish moments, but makes some powerful, relevant statements on faith and relationships.
Garfield's strong, gritty performance here grounds the film well, and his star turn here and in the recent "Hacksaw Ridge" show that the former Spider-Man is also an actor of substance, while Neeson's small but memorable turn as the apostate priest is a solid one; Driver, of "Girls" and the recent "Star Wars" is given less to do in an underwritten role that has him absent for much of the last section of the film. Rounding out the solid performances include Japanese actors Issey Ogata at the Governor responsible for the persecution of the Christians (and who sees Christianity as an ugly woman) and Yosuke Kubozuka as the troubled peasant unafraid to repeatedly deny his faith.
Filmed on location in Taiwan, "Silence's" first-rate production values should see some accolades, particularly with Rodrigo Prieto's ("The Wolf of Wall Street") handsome photography, the lush, detailed sets and costumes, and the touching music from Kim Allen and Kathryn Kluge, all of which give the film some added heft during its slower moments.
Speaking of which, the Scorsese could've trimmed the overlong second act by about 30 minutes, and there are too many moments and redundancies which underscore the agony that some of the priests must've felt in denying their faith to live a comfortable life, and though they may have been silenced, never truly gave up their faith.
"Silence" is a nice change of pace for Scorsese, and remarkably restrained for the director of such bloody, dark hits as "The Departed" and "Taxi Driver" and controversial ones such as "The Last Temptation of Christ." Sublimely executed and well-handled, but much like a Sunday School lesson that goes on too long (a 161-minute Sunday School lesson to be exact), it can be an endurance test for believers and non-believers alike.