Liam Neeson in a scene from the brutal movie, Silence.
Liam Neeson in a scene from the brutal movie, Silence. Kerry Brown

MOVIE REVIEW: Scorsese's Silence a harrowing tale

THIS bleak and brutal account of two Jesuit priests' misguided pilgrimage to 17th Century Japan might be subtitled 50 ways to kill a Christian - as slowly and painfully as possible.

Alongside the cruel and unusual punishments sanctioned by Nagasaki's "inquisitor” (Issey Ogata), the surprise decapitation of one loyal follower almost comes across as merciful.

Many converts take days to die.

In Silence's mist-shrouded opening sequence, the faithful are scalded with boiling water that is poured slowly through sieves in order to draw out the inevitable.

When the shogunate realises that its methods are turning priests into martyrs, it switches its focus to their flock.

Three Japanese peasants who refuse to apostatise are tied to crosses at the edge of the sea. As the tide comes in, the waves pound them. One man takes four days to die.

Another group is burnt alive.

Perhaps the most gruesome method of torture/execution is the pit, in which the immobilised victims are hung head first in darkness, with an incision cut behind the ear to keep them alive for as long as possible.

This is a world for which the term godforsaken was invented and an ideal environment in which to test a man's ideological convictions.

Like Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Martin Scorsese is interested in the way faith behaves when it's subjected to the ugly extremes of human behaviour.

Surely the casting of Andrew Garfield as the lead actor in both projects isn't merely a coincidence.

Father Rodrigues's journey is very different to that of Desmond Doss (the performance for which Garfield has been nominated for an Oscar). And it results in a more flawed and complex kind of hero.

This passion project, based on Shusaku Endo's award-winning 1966 novel, has been 28 years in the making.

Scorsese is hardly about to give his subject matter the light once-over.

Rodrigues travels to Japan with Father Garupe (Adam Driver) to find out what happened to their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), because they can't believe the rumours that he has renounced his religion.

He doesn't necessarily get the answers he is looking for.

Despite the difficult nature of the material, Silence is never less than engrossing.

Silence opens on Thursday (February 16).


Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver

Rating: MA15+

Running time: 161 minutes

Verdict: Four stars. It's impossible to look away

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