The Mission: Roland Joffé's Masterpiece
I just finished watching a movie that, when I first saw it in 1986, made such an impression on me that I could think of nothing else for days. It came at a fragile and life changing moment in my life and for some seven nights I walked several miles back and forth in a bitter winter to see it at the once splendid Ontario Theatre in Washington, DC. The film was Roland Joffé's epic "The Mission" with the unlikely cast of Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson and Ray McNally. When I first saw it I thought it to be amongst the most beautiful films I'd ever seen, and nearly 25 years later, think so still. While nominated and winning many international awards, The Mission was mostly ignored by Hollywood, receiving only one Oscar (cinematography).
The complexities of the story telling in "The Mission" are almost too much to take in in a single film lasting a bit more than two hours, but Jaffe has woven them together with a touch that is both delicate and profound, creating a tapestry as impressive and intricate as any medieval Flemish tapastry, its story held together flawlessly.
While supposedly created for our own preservation and edification, politics and religion have done as much or more unspeakable horrors in the names of God and Man as they have good and in "The Mission" we see the bloody result, despite the effort of a few rebel priests who believe in the power of love and the natives with whom they try to share their world. The villains are plentiful in this "true tale" and Joffe never disguises them, allowing the deceptive simplicities of "good versus evil" run its predictable course, as they twist and turn everything they touch into the inevitable choked and knotted apocalypse of sorrow that is always the end result of greed.
Despite its bleak, often hopeless nature, Joffe nonetheless gives us a miracle: a film of such ineffable beauty that stirs both heart and mind through the combination of remarkable acting, a wilderness captured in breathtaking cinematography, battles both physical and spiritual, and wed it all to one of the most remarkable musical scores of the late 20th century.