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Trying to Win Hearts & Minds in 'Silence'

It took Martin Scorsese 28 years to finally get the opportunity to make Silence, a movie that follows two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Drive) as they try to bring Christianity to 17th-century Japan. It's out now on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD.

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What we've got here is a movie about selling Western values in an unwelcoming Eastern culture. On the surface, it's about the Roman Catholic church but anyone who's served in the wars that aim to spread democracy will recognize and engage with the struggle these two characters endure.

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Garfield (Oscar-nominated for Hacksaw Ridge) and Marine veteran Driver give fantastic performances as the priests. They're searching for their mentor Father Ferrera (Liam Neeson) after he's disappeared. After the two priests minister to a remote village, they separate and Garfield's Father Rodrigues encounters the Inquisitor (Issei Ogata), a Japanese provincial governor determined to wipe out the Christian faith. Ogata and Garfield have verbal sparring matches about culture and faith that are periodically interrupted by rounds of torture.

Even though it was filmed in Taiwan and takes place in the 1600s, Silence feels like a Sergio Leone western, full of wide vistas and men racked by internal conflicts. The torture scenes in a Japanese prison camp will also bring to mind Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. No disrespect to WWII hero Louis Zamperini, but Scorsese highlights both the internal psychological suffering and external physical damage inflicted by the Inquisitor.

Garfield and Neeson eventually meet and the movie gets even deeper into the question of whether the Japanese are understanding the belief system in the same way that the Jesuit priest do. Are they Catholic or have they adapted some of the rituals into their own culture?

Silence is a long movie (about 2 hrs. 40 min.) that doesn't hurry its way through any of the issues it raises. Still, it's a Martin Scorsese picture: everything's clear and direct and nothing's self-consciously arty. Anyone who's still thinking about how to sell (or how they sold) democracy in a hostile land will appreciate what's going on here.

The Blu-ray's sole extra is a good featurette about the long history of the film's production and good interviews with the actors about how they prepared for their roles.

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