The Mission (1986) Directed by Roland Joffé. With Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cheri Lunghi, Chuck Low, Liam Neeson and Ronald Pickup.
Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or and directed by Roland Joffé, with a screenplay and story by Robert Bolt, The Mission is an affecting historical drama starring Jermey Irons and Robert De Niro, following the work of Jesuit priests with natives, in 18th century jungles of South America.
With a powerfully emotive score by Ennio Morricone, the film is a searing composition of pure evil and innocence, horribly, but unforgettably juxtaposed. Robert De Niro is Rodriguez Mendoza, a mercenary, who through his own self-destructive acts of violence, discovers a higher calling alongside Father Gabriel, played with subtle grace by Jeremy Irons.
As a religious film, it succeeds in demonstrating the righteous path a man can take, shunning any and all personal gain for the in the name of love and love only. It’s also a message about the political influence on the church, and the infestation of power and greed that can rot its values to the core.
The Academy Award winning cinematography by Chris Menges is absolutely breathtaking to behold. Between ferocious battles over waterfalls and sheer mountains, the landscape is simultaneously intimidating and welcoming; the power of God a fitting backdrop for the enveloping spiritual turmoil.
The film has been criticised for its bland central performances, but it isn’t the place for grandstanding, broad cinematic turns. Some have also charged it with being a didactic exercise, embraced primarily by those of a Christian persuasion.
A narrative from a religious perspective is always going to create vast division, but for me, The Mission makes a bold statement against violence in the name of any religion, yet is also at pains to emphasise how some who practice faith, betray their own principles to fit the ideals of their world, even if that means the loss of innocent life. An essential watch, albeit a gut-wrenchingly tough one. 4/5