SI­LENCE, drama, rated R; Re­gal Sta­dium 14, Vi­o­let Crown; 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Martin Scors­ese’s Si­lence, like the sub­ject it tack­les, is a movie best ap­proached with an abun­dance of faith. It’s a bloated, un­wieldy la­bor of love, blessed with some mag­nif­i­cent cin­e­matog­ra­phy (by Ro­drigo Pri­eto), a few good per­for­mances, and plenty of an­guished re­li­gious phi­los­o­phy to pro­vide food for thought and dis­cus­sion. But you might be bet­ter off spend­ing two hours and 41 min­utes with a Je­suit priest.

Scors­ese’s movie is adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Ja­panese Catholic Shusaku Endo. In ba­sic struc­ture, it’s a Heart of Darkness story, a per­ilous jour­ney into the un­known in search of a mythic fig­ure who may have gone na­tive. It fol­lows two 17th-cen­tury Je­suits, Fa­ther Ro­drigues (Andrew Garfield) and Fa­ther Gar­rpe (Adam Driver), who learn that their for­mer teacher Fa­ther Fer­reira (Liam Nee­son) is miss­ing in Ja­pan and pre­sumed apos­tate.

The two young priests can­not be­lieve that their men­tor could have re­nounced his faith. They pe­ti­tion their su­pe­rior (Ciarán Hinds) to let them jour­ney to Ja­pan to find the man and dis­cover the truth. They are warned that their mis­sion will be fraught with peril, and is it ever. Ja­pan in those days was hos­tile to the ef­forts of Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies to plant their for­eign re­li­gion in tra­di­tional Bud­dhist soil, and re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties em­ployed meth­ods we do not tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ciate with Bud­dhism to root out the in­vader.

The chief neme­sis of the Catholics is the In­quisi­tor, Inoue, a ruth­less de­fender of the Bud­dhist faith played with smil­ing, sneer­ing gusto by Issey Ogata, the only per­son in the movie who seems to be hav­ing a good time. He and his min­ions slice, dice, burn, and drown Ja­panese con­verts to the Church of Rome in whole­sale num­bers.

The movie opens with a beau­ti­fully filmed scene of tor­ture by scald­ing wa­ter, as Fa­ther Fer­reira watches in hor­ror through swirling mists of steam. Scenes of mist and fog per­sist through much of the film’s first half, re­flect­ing the dif­fi­culty faith faces in find­ing its way. Ro­drigues and Gar­rpe, strangers in a strange land, grope their way along to­gether for a while. When they sep­a­rate, the jug-eared Driver dis­ap­pears from the story and we fol­low the less in­ter­est­ing Garfield. We glance oc­ca­sion­ally at our watches, won­der­ing how long we will have to en­dure be­fore Liam Nee­son shows up again.

Too long. But his ar­rival, when it comes, is a breath of air. Fer­reira makes a pow­er­ful case against the kind of rigid fun­da­men­tal­ist doc­trine Ro­drigues has been cling­ing to. For the true be­liever, his ar­gu­ments are an in­sid­i­ous test of faith, a last temptation of the Christ-like Ro­drigues. For the ra­tio­nal­ist, they seem like plain good sense.

Do cul­tures so vastly for­eign to one an­other even un­der­stand the same con­cepts from the words and sym­bols used to rep­re­sent them? Scors­ese wres­tles with some pow­er­ful re­li­gious demons in this heart­felt epic of faith. But great pas­sion, even in the hands of a great film­maker, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make a great movie. — Jonathan Richards

All agony, no ec­stasy: Liam Nee­son

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