Review: Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ a brutal religious lesson

Scorsese spent many years bringing this story of faith and devotion to the screen

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Maybe Martin Scorsese had a little too much fun on “Wolf of Wall Street.”

Now comes “Silence,” a nearly-three hour meditation on faith that seems like penance for the free-wheeling debauchery of “Wolf.” It’s definitely a church-on-Sunday-after-being-out-all-night-on-Saturday situation, and for those not exulted by the inner-workings of devotion, it’s a slog.

It should be said that Scorsese is a master director if there ever was one. But the issues he’s dealing with here are so personal that he has a difficult time translating them to screen. It’s like trying to make a film out of the bible; some stories are better told internally than externally.

Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) are 17th century Portuguese priests who travel to Japan in search of their mentor (played by Liam Neeson), who is said to have abandoned his faith while under capture by inquisitors. Rodrigues and Garupe aim to spread Catholicism to the Japanese people, but are themselves captured and asked to renounce their beliefs in public.

It’s heavy stuff and there are dire consequences: beheadings, drownings, you name it. The torture can stop if one of the priests places a foot atop a symbol of Christ, a display of disrespect that seems like it could be justified — while maintaining a strong inner belief — to quell the bloodletting. But that’s up to religion experts to argue.

Scorsese has been trying to make “Silence” for decades, so it’s clearly Marty’s passion project. But faced with the two Scorseses, the one sinning tends to win over the one repenting.

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Rated R for some disturbing violent content

Running time: 161 minutes