Martin Scorsese works with two of his favorite themes in “Silence” — Catholicism and violence — but not in the way he’s done in the past. Slowly paced and, yes, often quiet, Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed 1966 novel has the contemplative mood of a Terrence Malick film, or one of Werner Herzog’s madmen-in-jungles adventures, not his usual operatic frenzy of blood and mania.
The change in style fits the reverence of the story, which is set in Japan in the 1600s (there’s plenty of Kurosawa here, too) and concerns Christians trying to spread their gospel to a country whose leaders violently oppose it. Two Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), hear that their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a missionary in Japan, has renounced the faith and converted to Buddhism. They can’t believe it, but the only way to know for sure is to go to Japan and find him. (Is this an “Apocalypse Now,” too? A little bit, but don’t get your hopes up.)
Trouble is, once they’re in Japan, Rodrigues and Garupe can’t do much searching because they have to hide. Christianity is illegal here, and the Inquisitor, Inoue (Issei Ogata), uses an imaginative variety of torture techniques to make believers either deny the faith or die. The priests find a cluster of devout Japanese converts who have been observing their religion in secret, who have been praying for the Church to send someone to minister to them.
The faith displayed by these Japanese Catholics is humbling in its purity but troubling in its implications. They seem to be more invested in sacred icons like crosses and rosaries than in doctrine, and there are legitimate questions about how much they really understand — how converted they really are — given the language and cultural barriers. Rodrigues and Garupe debate what to do next, how to tend to this flock and other underground congregations while pursuing their original mission to find Ferreira (if he’s even still alive).
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B (2 hrs., 41 min.; )