Mission, The (1986)

The Mission (1986), directed by Roland Joffé.

In South America, a mercenary and slave-taker kills his brother, performs strenuous penance, and joins the Jesuits who are protecting the Indians he previously persecuted. When they are threatened, he (Destry-like) picks up his weapons again and fights for them, but they haven't a chance.

Powerful and deeply-felt filmmaking, great story and photography. The massive waterfalls and difficult cliff ascents remind me of The Lost World stories about the inaccessible plateau that time forgot. (But the slavers didn't).

It's a rare major film that shows clergymen as something other than hypocrites or barking lunatics. Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro are very good as two men strong and brave in their own ways who work together for a while, but who take separate paths at the crisis. The political plot of the second half drags a bit.

Fine Ennio Morricone score. Story and screenplay by Robert Bolt.

Available on Blu-ray. The DVD commentary track by the director is an unstructured, meditative monologue on things he finds interesting in the picture. He speaks well spontaneously and his thoughts are interesting. He doesn't seem to have a big message or overall theory of the movie. I was surprised to find he is a Brit; I thought he was French.

He says one of the great scenes was improvised: where the cardinal delivers bad news to the Indians. Says the chief: "Go tell the King of Portugal to change his mind." Cardinal: "The King of Portugal will not listen to me." Chief: "I'm a king and I'm not listening to you either." Irons had learned enough of the language to do real translation.