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Liam Neeson stars in a scene from the movie "Silence." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Paramount)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- Directed and co-written (with Jay Cocks) by Martin Scorsese, "Silence" (Paramount) is a dramatically powerful but theologically complex work best suited to viewers who come to the multiplex prepared to engage with serious issues.

Those willing to make such an intellectual investment, however, will find themselves richly rewarded.

In adapting Catholic author Shusaku Endo's 1966 fact-based historical novel, a project in the works since the late 1980s, Scorsese finds himself in what might be called Graham Greene territory. As fans of that British novelist know, he had a fondness for stretching and twisting fundamental issues of faith and morality, and Endo's plot shows the same tendency. So this is also not a film for the poorly catechized.

The movie's primary setting is 17th-century Japan, where persecution is raging against the previously tolerated Christian community.

Shocked by rumors that Christavao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their mentor in the priesthood, has renounced the faith under torture, two of his fellow Jesuits, Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), volunteer to leave the safety of Europe for the perils of the Land of the Rising Sun. Their twin goals are to find their role model and to minister to the underground Japanese church.

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