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Silence

Year: 2016
Production Co: Sharpsword Films
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jay Cocks/Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Cirián Hinds, Yôsuke Kubozuka

Another film of Martin Scorsese working out his relationship to his Roman Catholic roots, maybe. Based on a classic Japanese novel, it's also a movie that would have had young stars in Hollywood salivating at the kudos it would buy them, and it's also another all-too rare example of a film that reminds us Liam Neeson really can act.

At the very least it will show you a slice of history you never knew. Before Japan embraced Western industrialisation wholeheartedly, it was a very isolationist country extremely Hostile to gai-jin ways.

In this case it's the attempted spread of Christianity by the Catholic Church in Portugal. As we learn in an opening scene, Jesuit missionaries are tortured and murdered by the authorities if they're found out, the most devout embracing their torment as proof their mission is holy because they're suffering like Christ did before them.

But dark news reaches the central command of the mission – a disquieting rumour has it that Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), one of the most dedicated missionaries ever, has committed apostasy and abandoned his post, devoting himself to Japanese spiritual teachings.

Two of his former students, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), are horrified and can't believe it, convincing their senior (Cirian Hinds) to send them to Japan undercover to try and find Ferreira and discover the truth.

Being the 17th century their journey is arduous and long, and they have only drunk former sailor Kichijirō (Yôsuke Kubozuka) as a guide. Wrestling with their own fears about being discovered and their faith in why they've come, the pair let the street urchin leads them to an underground community of Japanese Christians who are overjoyed at their presence, finally able to receive penance, give confession and follow other tenets of their faith properly.

But the local authorities tasked with rooting out underground Christianity hear about the pair and come gunning for them, threatening all manner of horrors to the villagers for hiding them.

After that, the entire midsection of the (very long) story doesn't move very much. The pair separate to hide better and cover more ground, but Rodrigues is captured in short order and spends what feels like the rest of the movie wrestling with his soul rather than taking part in any real activity in the real world.

Somewhere along the line, the Japanese authorities become far more civilised about the whole murdering missionaries thing, and even though Rodrigues is still behind bars, they try to reason with him, telling him renouncing Christianity is only a formality. When that doesn't work, they tell him they'll torture and kill his parishioners, and the endlessly devout priest has to decide if he should continue to shout his faith from the rooftops even if it means other people will suffer.

Finally he finds his former master, and I won't reveal whether the rumours or true or not, but suffice it to say he looks a lot like a Jedi master like he did in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace all those years ago.

Everything about it looks authentic – the moviemaking arts and crafts on screen are all beautifully built and shot – and the themes of grappling with belief are as universal as they ever were.

I just wondered a few times when it would hurry up – more than we ever should in a movie we can later say we enjoyed. There's a very inert, emotionally stagnant quality about it all and while you feel better for having watched it, that doesn't make it any more entertaining while it's going on.

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