Released in the aftermath of British Film Year 1985 and one of three films produced by the Goldcrest company, Roland Joffé’s The Mission is as much an expression of artistic intent as a reflection of what the British Film Industry was aiming for. Unfortunately, the two other films in the trio, Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985) and Julian Temple’s Absolute Beginners (1986) didn’t quite hit the heights they should have done, a process which led Goldcrest to it’s inevitable demise soon after.
Re-issued on Blu-Ray as part of Warner Home Video’s ‘Premium Collection’, The Mission is based on a true story set in South America in 1750 and chronicles the quest of Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), a Jesuit priest who is helping to build a mission for a local tribe, the Guarani, and thus introduce them to Christianity. It is a noble intent, but is complicated by the actions of mercenary and slave driver Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), who has enslaved some of the tribe, but has to deal with emotional issues compounded by his murder of younger brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn) when he catches him in bed with fiancée Carlotta (Cherie Lunghi). Mendoza decides to undergo a penance with the help of Gabriel deep amongst the Guarani and tries to achieve some sort of redemption….
Although a major award contender and Palme D’Or Winner at Cannes, The Mission lacks a dramatic centre. Part of the issue is that priests in movies are passive characters and there is no exception here in Irons’ Father Gabriel. This is a clear disadvantage in a film that is as reliant on location spectacle and a strong conflict between cultures. The recent Scorsese film Silence was another drama that suffered because of this clear passiveness and didn’t really come to life until the second half of the narrative.
As always, De Niro is excellent as Mendoza and it is his arc of development that is the key focus of the film, rather than Irons. There is also good support here from the likes of Paddy McNally and Liam Neeson. One of the Assistant Directors on The Mission is Uberto Pasolini, who went on to produce the Oscar-nominated British classic The Full Monty (1997), having worked for a period of time under producer David Puttnam, who is a trade envoy these days. Legendary Stunt Co-ordinator Vic Armstrong handles action duties here.
Overall, The Mission scores highly technically, not only with Chris Menges’ Oscar-winning Cinematography and Stuart Craig’s Production Design , but also in Ennio Morricone’s classic score (which was sampled on the first trailer for Braveheart (1995). It’s just a pity that more focus on a tighter narrative and action wasn’t becoming.
THE MISSION (1986) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROLAND JOFFÉ / SCREENPLAY: ROBERT BOLT / STARRING: ROBERT DE NIRO, JEREMY IRONS, RAY MCANALLY, AIDAN QUINN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW