Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Robert De
Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Liam Neeson
Director: Roland Joffe
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 13, 2003
me there is no redemption, no penance great enough."
is. But do you dare to try it?"
you dare to see it fail?"
is unquestionably one of the most poetic films ever made, both visually and in
its storytelling. It's a piece of many elements; redemption, tragedy, and
courage of the highest order. This is perhaps one of cinema's most dramatically
powerful offerings, so much so that deserves to be ranked in the same league as Schindler's List and The Passion of the
But the one element of this film that creates the most striking effect is
the cinematography. Rarely do you feel as if the setting is a character in
itself. Few directors are capable of conveying such visual power. Terrence
Malick is such an example, and although I haven't seen all of his films,
director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields),
along with cinematographer Chris Menges (whose work won the film a much deserved
Oscar), has achieved that stroke of brilliance with this outstanding looking
And to match the sunning look of the film is the brilliant screenplay by
the late great Robert Bolt (Lawrence of
Arabia). The screenplay reflects historical events that took place in South
America in the year 1750. Bolt's script invents characters for the story, and
they are richly developed with sheer authenticity and heart.
The film opens with a deceased Jesuit priest being tied to a cross by a
tribe of Guarani Indians, and sent down a river into a thunderous waterfall.
This results in the arrival of a replacement, a devoted servant of God named
Gabriel (Jeremy Irons). Gabriel's intent is to carry on the work of the recently
martyred priest. Once he comes face to face with the Guarani tribe, they accept
him as one of them.
Not long after Gabriel's arrival, he comes across the path of Rodrigo
Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a mercenary who has been engaging in slave trading for
European settlers at a nearby plantation. He takes in some Gurarni to provide
work for the settlers, much against Gabriel's request to let the tribe proceed
with the Jesuit mission. However, it won't be the last the two men see of each
Some time later, back at the plantation, the mercenary discovers his
brother, Felipe (Aidan Quinn), engaging in an affair with his wife, who comes
forth about her love for his brother. His tempers flare, and out of a flash of
anger, Rodrigo kills his brother. This act of sin does have an effect on him,
making him feel extremely guilt-ridden.
Gabriel goes to visit Rodrigo in prison, where the condemned man begs for
redemption. The priest agrees to the offer, having him gaining repentance in the
form of taking part in the Jesuit missionaries. His primary obstacle is to scale
the waterfalls repeatedly, with a sword and heavy armor hanging off of him in a
satchel. When Rodrigo is physically unable to repeat the penance after many
times, he is forgiven and accepted into the missionaries.
It is here where the mission itself begins, as Gabriel and his fellow
priests, including the newly ordained Rodrigo, live peacefully with the Indians.
They create various musical instruments, and the Indians are taught to sing
Christian hymns. The goal of the mission is to unite the Spanish and Portuguese
governments, who control the territory, can one day live in pure peace with
Then the political climate begins to weigh in. Spain and Portugal have
entered a treaty, one which will order Spain to hand over a great deal of
territory to Portugal, land where many missionaries have already been
established. The Vatican sends in an emissary named Altamirano (Ray McAnally),
who will decide whether the missions will remain under the protection of the
church or be done away with. Gabriel persuades Altamirano to leave the mission
as it is, because without it, the Guarani tribe will be reduced to a lifetime of
laboring and slave victims.
The decision made is that all priests, and Guarani Indians, shall elude
the territory at once. The tribe refuses to leave their homeland, and the
priests refuse to leave the tribe's side. With European troops closing in on the
territory, the missionaries can only arm themselves with faith, the cross, and
the power of God. It's clear at this point that the story will not end on a
This is as majestic and as powerful as motion pictures get. The film
delivers strong performances from both Irons and De Niro, in a role that at the
time had to have been a departure. His performance of Rodrigo represents one of
the most heartfelt character transformations I've ever seen. And Irons hits the
right note tremendously as the peaceful Gabriel as a man who doesn't want blood
on his hands, but is ready to confront God at any point.
Overall, The Mission is a film
that exercising goodwill amongst everyone, even those who are of different
cultures, is the most courageous gesture any human can make. The actions made by
the Jesuits in the effort to protect the Guarani tribe from harm are a bright
shining example of this. The film also makes clear that it is inhuman for any
government or force of people to impose themselves on a group of unsuspecting
people, like the Guarani tribe.
Enough can't be said about this film. It's a sheer masterpiece, pure and
simple, both as important story and as superior filmmaking piece. If there was
ever a film that deserves to be discovered by anyone and everyone, The
Mission is that film.
Even though this release has been out almost two years, I'll be quite
honest to say that this is one of the most outstanding presentations I've seen
from Warner Bros. For them to take a film from 1986 and restore every inch of
its every frame, and produce a magnificent looking disc is quite an
accomplishment. Had I caught this two years ago, this would've definitely gotten
top honors at that year's DMC awards.
As I mentioned earlier, the look of the film is a key element in its
power, and Warner has done the movie absolute justice by mastering every frame
of the film. The detail in the picture is astounding, and the image is
breathtaking with its consistent sharp frame and awesome clearness. The South
American jungle setting provides images that will stir your senses. To be quite
honest, this may go on record as one of the finest looking presentations on
record. It's that remarkable.
The same can be said for the sound of the disc. The Mission is quite a unique sounding experience as well, and
Warner's re-mastering 5.1 mix conveys this notion completely. To start with,
there's Ennio Morricone's ravishing score to the film, which has its own level
of sounding beauty to match for the film's level of power. Morricone has
composed many great scores, and this maybe his best piece of music yet! Dialogue
is delivered wonderfully, and the surround sound quality is heard in outstanding
form as a result of strong set pieces and brief moments of action. Remarkable in
This Two Disc set offering delivers an exceptional range of features.
Disc One includes a commentary track by director Roland Joffe, cast and
crew highlights, a list of awards for the film, and a theatrical trailer.
Disc Two is basically an bonus documentary on the making of the film
entitled "Omnibus". It covers plenty of ground, from the development of the
film, to the production shoot, to the real life South American Indians who
played a vital role in bringing The
Mission to life. It's a most informative piece.