Director: Martin Scorsese (2017) BBFC cert: 15
Cleanse your spirit of festive excess with this raw religious historical drama.
Director Martin Scorsese’s last film was The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014), an unholy marathon of money, booze, drugs and sex. I loved it. Now the veteran filmmaker is insisting we suffer penance for enjoying his cinematic sins, by making us watch this powerful portrait of pain and suffering.
We follow a seventeenth century devout Portuguese priest who smuggles himself into feudal Japan. Foreigners have been barred and converted Christians are being put to death in inventively gruesome ways.
Brit actor and former Spider-man star, Andrew Garfield is a revelation as Father Rodrigues, the Jesuit missionary. Sporting a runaway beard and raggedy clothes, his soul baring intensity carries the film as Rodrigues’ faith in God is put to the test.
Better known as Kylo Ren from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016), Adam Driver demonstrates his elastic acting range as Rodrigues’ more cynical fellow priest, Father Garrpe.
Rodrigues is trying to discover the fate of his former mentor. Father Ferreira has been reported as renouncing his faith and taking a Japanese wife. As the missing priest, Liam Neeson is back to the form which saw him Oscar nominated for Schindler’s List (1993).
Twenty years in the planning and filmed on location across harsh mountains, beaches and seas, this has been labour of love for Scorsese. And there’s no doubt the actors are suffering for his art. We see drownings, crucifixions and villagers being burnt alive. The very first scene features torture and heads on spikes.
With its heavy themes of faith, loyalty and guilt, traumatic scenes of execution and extensive use of subtitles, this is far from a multiplex crowd pleaser.
This is Scorsese’s homage to some of his favourite epics; the John Ford western The Searchers (1956), Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Ran (1985), and Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war movie Apocalypse Now (1979).
And by creating this intense masterpiece, Scorsese is elevated to cinema’s pantheon of directorial deities.