- Those stumbling upon The Mission for the first time may wonder who Roland Joffé is and how he was able to corral Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Robert Bolt (screenwriter of Lawrence of Arabia), Ennio Morricone and others together for this film. Well, Irons was not such a big name yet (either was an athletic looking Jesuit here played by Liam Neeson) and as for the others, well Joffé had a big success in 1984 with The Killing Fields. These two films are similar- both well-acted political dramas shot on location. I’m not sure Joffé deserves to be surrounded by this level of talent but I wish he had made another half-dozen of these films.
- The Mission opens on waterfalls in South America – parts are shot in Columbia and Argentina. In one scene, as many as four waterfalls are feeding a river.
The best sequences in the film (with no offense to the great Robert Bolt) are largely silent sequences watching more-than-capable actors, in gorgeous surroundings (Oscar winner for Best Cinematography) accompanied by one of Morricone’s greatest scores (I believe he cites this as his own favorite).
- Irons is the leader of the Jesuits, and De Niro is a slave trader. In a few short minutes both characters are introduced. Irons plays music for the indigenous people he hopes to save (from his point of view) or convert. And De Niro’s character kills his brother is a fit of jealousy. There is a lot of climbing, watching De Niro break down. Joffé does have to get from point A to point B but the total redemption struggle lasts less than 10 minutes. Both lead actors handle themselves well here though this is not among their best work. It is fun to see Irons play a kind, morally upstanding character. He would spend the next decade playing predators and repugnant characters. And there is no actor in history that matches De Niro’s intense glare.
- A great sequence at the 99-minute mark with De Niro facing the camera with a sword (above)
- I have idea how this happened but how about Morricone and De Niro working together in the 1980s? There is Once Upon a Time in America (1984), this here, and then again in 1987 The Untouchables. Actually, I do know how it happened, if you wanted the best music and if you wanted the best actor you got De Niro and Morricone.
- Leading into that, it does feel like this is a collection of parts more than a cohesive whole and it could have been one of 1986’s best films with a stronger auteur. The costumes are impeccable. Jim Clark does the sublime editing (almost all dissolves for the scene changes). Clark did the editing for 1961’s The Innocents among other works.
- Chuck Low (very good here) must have been De Niro’s buddy. He is in this, Sleepers, Goodfellas as Morris is where he’s most recognizable.
- Ebert, in not an overwhelming positive review “I suggested that no single shot in the movie is without interest.” https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-mission-1986
- Winner of the Palme at Cannes, nominated for seven Oscars
- The final attack does feel like it was inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
- Recommend / Highly Recommend border
Great review. I like this film a lot.
On a side note, do you any good movies released currently. Doesn’t seem to be too many.
I saw Jungle Cruise today. I quite liked it. It’s a throwback film to adventure films of the 80s.
@Azman- Thanks for the comment. I have seven 2021 films in the archives so far- which actually isn’t terrible for the beginning of August. Judas and the Black Messiah’s, The Dig, The White Tiger, The Underground Railroad, The Woman in the Window… and pages coming soon for No Sudden Move and eventually The Green Knight- which I’d like to see again before doing a page for. It is incredibly beautiful– and, almost equally, incredibly idiosyncratic.
@Drake – are you going to update 2019 page at some point? And when might the page for 2020 come out?
@RK- yeah, I think I’m going to just naturally get to them when I get through my year by year archive updates. I’m trying top pick up the pace a little.
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