Hidden Figures (2016) — PICK

Lion (2016) — PICK

Silence (2016) — PICK


This week many people will be sitting down to one of last year’s big franchise sequels new on Blu-ray: the Star Wars sequel Rogue One and the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Alas, both sequels lack the archetypal fairy-tale good-vs.-evil vibe of the original stories — not to mention a protagonist worth caring about. What do I recommend instead? A trio of fact-based films from last year, each with at least some notable religious themes.

By far my favorite of the three, albeit also the most difficult, is Martin Scorsese’s powerful Silence, based on the acclaimed novel by Japanese Catholic Shusaku Endo.

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Adam Driver (Paterson) star as a pair of dedicated Jesuit missionaries who go to 17th-century Japan looking for their mentor (Liam Neeson).

What they find is a community of hidden Christians suffering under excruciating persecution.

Silence raises tough questions about faith and culture, persecution and fidelity, and what it means to affirm or deny Christ. I’ve written two long essays about it (both available at NCRegister.com and DecentFilms.com), and I’ll continue to ponder it for years to come.

Hidden Figures relates the untold story of black female mathematicians (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe) at NASA’s segregated Langley Research Center during the 1960s space race. One, Katherine Goble Johnson (Henson), is tapped for an all-white-male research team crunching numbers to put astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

From Catholic director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), Hidden Figures tells an important story in an entertaining, if sanitized, way.

Then there’s Lion, starring Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as Saroo Brierley, an Indian-born man who was separated from his home and family at the age of 5 and eventually adopted by an Australian family — but as an adult managed to relocate his home village by scouring Google Maps images for landmarks matching his childhood memories. As with Hidden Figures, critics will find fault, but the true story is its best asset.

 

Caveat Spectator: Hidden Figures: Brief profanity and some cursing; brief sensuality. Older kids and up. Lion: Mature themes; pair of brief nonmarital bedroom scenes (nothing explicit). Teens and up. Silence: Intense scenes of torture and menace, including graphic violence; ambiguous religious themes. Adults.