The Mission (1986)


Starring: Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, Ray McAnally, Chuck Low, Ronald Pickup, Liam Neeson

Director: Roland Joffe

Summary: Two missionaries fight for the rights of South American Indians against colonial landowners in the 1750s

Other Nominations: Director, Original Score, Art Direction, Cinematography*, Costume Design, Film Editing

This is an interesting one to discuss. The film is esthetically excellent, with outstanding locations and sets, cinematography and costumes. The score is exceptional, and different than what I’m used to from Morricone-that it took him another 30 years after this to finally get his Oscar is ridiculous for obvious reasons, especially considering the winner for original this year was Herbie Hancock for “Round Midnight”, which extensively used existing pieces of music. De Niro was the innovator of “I’m going to stand out by putting himself through horrible things” (like gaining loads of weight for Raging Bull); here, he climbs barefoot up a waterfall and through mud while carrying a bag of armor (plastic or not, it still would suck); Dicaprio took note. Regardless of that, both he and Irons were really good, and I’m a little surprised neither got a nomination.

As for the characters and story…they’re quite problematic actually and all of the great visuals and the wonderful score feel misused in a lot of ways sadly. Setting aside the issue of whether or not the idea of missionaries trying to convert natives to Christianity is a good one to begin with, the film’s focus is entirely on how great and noble these Jesuit missionaries are and agonizing over their sacrifice and how much they’ve been betrayed by their own church-the natives, the ones actually being pushed out of their own homes are mostly window dressing. The film only addresses the elephant in the room with a single line in the movie-that these natives would have been 100% better off if Irons and De Niro had never shown up at all in the first place.  

This is a hard movie to rate, but for me all its visual and audio beauty and strong performances, they simply can’t make up for some fundamental issues with how it’s told, so I can’t give it a truly positive review.

Rating: C+


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