NEW YORK • After 28 years of false starts, director Martin Scorsese has finally brought a passion project about faith and religion to the big screen with Silence.
Based on the acclaimed 1966 novel of the same name by the late Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, the drama tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, who travel to Japan in the 17th century to search for their missing mentor, portrayed by Liam Neeson.
There, in an era when Christians were persecuted and tortured, the missionaries face a choice: They can save themselves and Japanese converts from death by crucifixion, burning and drowning, but only if they renounce their religion.
"I think it's a beautiful film, it's incredibly thought-provoking. It's one of those films you don't just forget about when you leave the cinema," Neeson said. "Whether you're religious or not, it's very questioning."
Scorsese, a staunch Catholic, had been keen to make the film since first reading the book in 1988, after the release of his film, The Last Temptation Of Christ.
The Italian-American director has said he was struck by the questions the book raises about faith, doubt, weakness and God's role in the face of human suffering. But just getting the screenplay right took the Oscar-winning director 15 years and finding funding proved difficult.
The drama, shot in Taiwan and lasting for an unusually long two hours and 45 minutes, will open in American movie theatres on Dec 23 before expanding nationwide.
Driver and Garfield lost about 9kg for their roles, which Driver said helped put him in the mindset of his weary and frightened young priest. "You're playing a persecuted 17th- century Jesuit priest. So it's good to, I think, have a little struggle. Also, you're very tired and hungry, as are the characters," said Driver.
Silence has already been screened at the Vatican, where Scorsese had a meeting with Pope Francis last month.
But despite strong reviews and Scorsese's high profile in Hollywood as the man behind such films as Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990), his latest movie has gained little traction in the current Hollywood awards season.
Silence was snubbed by both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild this week, receiving no nominations for their 2017 awards. Scorsese will have to wait until Jan 24 to find out whether the movie is remembered in the Oscar nominations.