SILENCE: This overlong story of Catholic missionaries risking martyrdom in 1600s Japan tries to pretend that it’s a powerful look at faith under duress, but in fact is dangerous because it makes viewers sympathize with denial of faith long after the threat to the priests has passed. Plus its torture scenes make for heartbreaking and brutal viewing. NOT Dateworthy.
PATRIOTS DAY: This powerful tale of the Boston Marathon bombing and the epic search by authorities to catch the bombers is edge-of-your-seat viewing with patriotism and beautiful contemplations on pressing forward in the face of evil at its core. Intense viewing, but highly recommended. .YES, it’s Dateworthy if you can handle a sometimes-harrowing and highly serious film, because it’ll also stimulate great conversations.
Considering all the classics he has made, ranging from “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” to “Goodfellas” and the Best Picture-winning “The Departed” — one might expect that Martin Scorsese just has to say the word to make any film he wishes. Yet his new film “SILENCE,” about two Roman Catholic missionary Jesuits risking martyrdom for evangelizing in 1600s Japan, took 28 years to bring to the screen.
Contrast that with another new film, “PATRIOTS DAY,” which takes an alternately epic and intimate look at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing from director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, who previously teamed up for two other films about true stories in “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon.” Coming just three years after the tragic events it depicts, it is remarkable partly for the speed with which it made it through Hollywood’s notoriously slow development process.
Both are among the heaviest movies of the past year, deep dramas offering painful looks at people under remarkable duress. Yet, while they’re hardly popcorn entertainments, they are the kind of movies that make their viewers gain insight into both art and the human condition — feats that are all too rare these days.
“SILENCE” is the more challenging of the two films, taking two hours and 40 minutes to tell its tale of Portuguese priests named Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), who tell their religious superior that they wish to find out what happened to another missionary named Ferreira (Liam Neeson), no matter how risky the mission may be. Ferreira has disappeared while evangelizing in Japan, yet while many other missionaries were known to have been martyred for their efforts, rumor has it that Ferreira renounced Jesus and the Catholic Church and is surviving as a now-married man.
Rodrigues and Garrpe refuse to believe that rumor and head off with an unreliable and often drunken guide named Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka) to find out for themselves. They journey into the heartland of Japan, which has a roaming team of deadly men led by a ruthless figure known as The Inquisitor (Shinya Tsukamoto) seeking out and killing Christian converts. Their efforts form the heart of the film as they balance their fearless passion for Christ against the all-too-fearful reality of facing brutal torture because of their beliefs.
“Silence” asks many spiritual and existential questions, particularly those focusing on how much a person can or should endure in the name of paying witness to their concept of God. The tortures visited upon the missionaries and their village flock included men being hung from crosses on the edge of the ocean as high tide rises to drown them. Horrific cries emanate from people hanging upside down with their heads in a dark pit as they bleed slowly to death over days.
Scorsese manages to convey these horrors without dwelling on them visually, and yet there is no pleasant way to portray these atrocities. Garfield is particularly amazing as the man who endures the most, and viewers will likely find themselves able to relate all too well in a time when ISIS is subjecting modern-day Christians to similar traumas in the Middle East.
And yet, there are significant problems. “Silence” could have spoken volumes about the power of faith to overcome seemingly anything, and the human penchant to punish others who view God and salvation differently than themselves.
SPOILER ALERT: But ultimately, Rodrigues falls to the pressure of being told that the people suffering a slow death by torture are dying because of his refusal to apostatize, and he steps on a picture of Christ to save them. This is shown as an utterly devastating moment for him, and until one is faced with this unimaginable decision, it’s not really fair to judge him. But the fact that the movie shows him agreeing to remain an apostate publicly the rest of his life, and even agreeing to marry a Japanese man’s widow for decades and father a child long after the moment of danger to others has passed, is inexcusable.
Furthermore, the film’s final shot shows Rodrigues clutching a crucifix as officials set his corpse aflame as a final defilement of him after he dies. His widow has placed it there, indicating that she knew he secretly loved Jesus all along, but while that may give undiscerning viewers a powerful moment, it actually underscores the insidious nature of the film because once again, the movie tries to present him as a heroic near-martyr when in fact he enjoyed a life of luxury by hiding his true feelings for Christ. END SPOILER.
There are a couple of other purely artistic drawbacks to “Silence.” In particular, the meditative pace of the film makes it at least 45 minutes longer than it had to be, even as it remains interesting throughout. And Tsukamoto is a truly odd casting choice, as his never-ending grin and fake-friendly tone of voice often make him feel more like a Jerry Lewis character than a figure to fear. Yet he fades into the background with plenty of time for the film to recover its sense of somber majesty.
Meanwhile, the more immediately relatable “PATRIOTS DAY” is a dark police procedure drama that shows what the bombing victims and the law enforcement officials who tracked the bombers down had to endure over four harrowing days. Wahlberg plays Tommy Saunders, a Boston cop who was assigned to security detail at the normally incident-free marathon finish line when brothers Dzokhar and Tamerlin Tsarnaev unleashed hell with their improvised bombs.
While Saunders is a composite character tying together three real-life Boston police officers into one fictional creation, Berg and his co-writers Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer hew extremely close to the real people and details of the bombing and pursuit on every front. As the Boston police are augmented by help from the state and federal levels, a massive command center is built under the control of FBI Special Agent Richard Desluauriers (Kevin Bacon) and the impressive wheels of finding and either arresting or destroying the bombers is rapidly under way.
“Patriots Day” is packed with harrowing action moments, particularly in a nerve-wracking battle in which the Tsarnaev brothers lob numerous explosives at the police as they desperately try to wipe out as many officials as possible when they’re surrounded. But these are more compelling than simply fun to watch, as Berg masterfully manages to tell a story of everyday heroes without becoming jingoistic in any way.
Considering its subject matter, it should not be surprising that “Patriots Day” has a lot of disturbing moments, even as they are real-life events. The movie ties together real-life footage of the bombs going off and their aftermath with recreations to powerful effect, and there are some quick shots of dismembered limbs. The terrorist brothers are portrayed in a realistic, not cartoonish, way, adding to the intensity of moments where they shoot or throw bombs at police.
The movie also has a large amount of foul language, which is noticeable yet doesn’t feel as exploitative as a fictional movie might – this is filled with intense life and death situations, and these are blue-collar tough guys in Boston fighting against utter evil. This is a rare case where if one is interested in a powerful story well told, it’s better to be aware of the language and give it a pass.
Berg and his co-writers also manage to weave together at least a dozen major characters, from the victims to the law enforcement figures to the bombers themselves in a way that brings an understanding of the good or evil that drives them. For being a masterful achievement it’s surprising “Patriots Day” isn’t attracting more love from the awards shows.