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March 27, 2017

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'Silence' — a gorgeous, tedious journey

Martin Scorsese's "Silence" is not an easy film to watch. At times, it's grotesquely violent, at others tediously slow. But it is a full and worthy cinematic experience that is bold, thought provoking and utterly singular. That it's also a nearly three-decade effort from one of our living greats is just an interesting factoid in the end — plus, we've been here before a few times over with Scorsese's passion projects.

Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks ("The Age of Innocence") adapted "Silence" from Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel of the same name. Set in the 17th century, the film follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) who journey to Japan to try to find their fellow missionary, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has been rumored to have renounced his faith.

It's an acutely dangerous mission, which Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) tries to dissuade Rodrigues and Garrpe from pursing. In the years after the Shimabara Rebellion, Christianity in Japan was practiced only in secret — iconography and texts were confiscated and the known and even suspected devout were tortured and killed. But, driven by faith and duty Rodrigues and Garrpe might as well not have a choice in the matter at all. They can't even fathom not going, though, and thus they do.

The two men have to sneak into the country with the help of a semi-trustworthy scoundrel who is still reeling from his own crisis of faith. Japan (really, Taiwan where they shot) even looks uninviting. Shot by Rodrigo Prieto with production design from Dante Ferretti, the gray skies seem ready to close in on the mountains and subdued landscapes, and below, the dark sea thrashes violently against the shore.

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