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Stars: Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Yosuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, Matthew Blake

Director: Martin Scorsese

Grim and gruelling, this Scorsese religious epic is, for all the beauty of its 'Japanese' (actually shot in Taiwan) settings, something of a slog. It seems more like six hours than three, and there are times when you wish the director would simply get on with it. But this is not Scorsese's plan, and there are occasions when the means does justify the end.

It's 1640 and two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) - the actors, perhaps mercifully, soon abandon attempts at 'Portuguese' accents - journey to Japan, both to promote the Christian faith and to find the long-lost Fr Ferreira (Neeson).

The rest of the film is a catalogue of oppression and torture by Japanese who simply do not understand the Christian concept, and compel its followers to apostasise (renounce the faith by stepping on a portrait of Jesus in stone) at every opportunity. The torture includes being burnt alive, gradually being bled to death, crucified or simply beheaded.

The best scenes come towards the end when Rodrigues finally meets Ferreira and is bewildered and shocked by what he has become - a fate that threatens himself. Here is where Neeson and Garfield are at their best. There is some overacting, however, by their Japanese supporting cast - Asano's devious interpreter excepted - in a film that needs to be borne rather than enjoyed, for appreciation of what the director is trying to achieve.

David Quinlan

USA/Taiwan/Mexico 2016. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour (unspecified).
161 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 31 Dec 2016