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The story of two Catholic missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) - at a time when Catholicism was outlawed and their presence forbidden.
There's a reasonable argument to say that SILENCE is one of Martin Scorsese's better movies. The talk is that it was a passion project of his for decades, finally being released in all it's artistic endeavors and mysteries. I suppose someone else could argue the opposite: that this is a story full of brutality and despair without the signature style of the aged director. I think I'm falling right on the middle on this one. This is surely one of the year's most powerful stories, and yet I have to admit it left me cold.
The story follows two priests from Portugal (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who venture into hostile Japanese country in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has abandoned his Christian faith. Some chalk it up to mere rumors. These two young ministers take the journey to find out for themselves.
What begins as a fairly traditional story ventures into the heart of Japan in the 16th Century with a sharp attention to both detail and horror. This is less a story of a search for one man as it is an odyssey into the despair found in conflicting religious beliefs. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) holds hope that Ferreira is alive while also working to convert as many locals under cover of darkness. Upon landing on the shores of Japan (smuggled in on small fishing boats from China), he encounters villages of faithful Christians who worship in secret. For them, the arrival of Rodrigues and Father Garupe (Driver) is confirmation of their beliefs. Through language barriers, it seems that God is always present.
As we delve further into the country towards Nagasaki (where Ferreira is said to be held), the two priest break off on separate journeys. Rodrigues, though oftentimes alone, is shadowed by a Japanese recluse named Kichijiro, a drunk who once betrayed his faith in order to spare his life (he witnessed the execution of his entire family) but returns to the faith time again in order to make Confession and amends with the Lord. Rodrigues continues to absolve him, and yet this is the slow unraveling of an aspect of this story: do the Japanese really comprehend the religion in the same way Westerners do?
There are three people who make this movie better than average: Andrew Garfield surely gives one of the year's best performances as a man trapped in his own personal Hell, forced to grapple between martyrdom and eternal damnation. It's a strong year for Garfield, getting accolades and Oscar buzz for his other leading role in 'Hacksaw Ridge.' Trust me, this is the better performance. Second is the skill of Martin Scorsese, who slowly paints a portrait of a time long forgot with such attention to tone. It's a horrifying and at times morbid story to sit through, but there was never a moment I found myself any less than fully-focused and contemplative.
Third is a surprise, a breakthrough performance by a Japanese actor named Issey Ogata who gives without a doubt one of the year's most memorable performances. Throughout the film the Christians living in Japan are routinely inspected by samurai officials who intend to hunt down and capture any found citizens in violation of the law. One such official is Inoue Masashige (Ogata) who treats the job with a certain flair. Constantly waving a fan and with an ear to ear smile, this is a performance that steps above the rest of the cast by perfectly encapsulating the braggadocious nature of Japanese law without missing a beat. It's a winking devil performance that I hope the Oscars won't look over.
'Silence' is at times hard to palpate and yet rewards the audience for it's patience. Whether or not this film can be interpreted as being pro or anti-Catholic is maybe not the ultimate message of this film. While the final act delves into a horrifyingly-dark arena, consider the final shot before the credits begin to role (I won't spoil it). In such a brutal era with antiquated customs, isn't there still hope left to be found?
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