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The Mission Movie Review

mendoza film penance awards

1986 – Roland Joffe –

Robert Bolt's distinguished career as a writer took in some of the screen's most impressive epics: Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Man for All Seasons, and Ryan's Daughter. Bolt's script for The Mission falls below the level set by his better screen work. The film, set in eighteenth-century South America, concerns the church and the slave trade and their mutual interests in the South American Indians for the souls and dollars they represent. A Jesuit, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), starts a mission and eventually converts Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a slave trader who has killed his brother (Aidan Quinn) in a fit of rage. After an arduous penance, Mendoza decides to become a Jesuit and work at the mission himself. Politics complicates the conflict when the church is shown to side with expediency and to cede the mission to slave-owning Portugal rather than free Spain. Mendoza and Gabriel differ on the response to the church's order to close the mission: Mendoza sides with the faction of Indians who decides to fight over their lost mission home, Gabriel chooses the path of prayer and passive resistance. Both prove a poor defense against the guns and cannon of the troops.

The montages prove to be among the most memorable aspects of the film. Backed by Ennio Morricone's stirring music, these sequences visualize Mendoza's path to the priesthood, the visit to the mission by the church elder, and the start of the climactic battle. Bolt's script contents itself to regard its characters from the outside, a choice that results in a rather impersonal film on a passionate subject. For instance, more screen time is devoted to Mendoza's penance than to his jail-cell conversion. The penance, in which he attempts to lug a weight up a muddy cliff, makes for better spectacle, but the conversion, had it been explored, would have unlocked deeper recesses of his character. The mixture of resolution and self-loathing visualized in the penance scene succeeds at revealing much about Mendoza, but his conversion is genuine and just as much a key to his later actions as this heroic struggle up the cliff. All in all, The Mission is a film easier to respect in its impressive parts than to feel enthusiasm for its whole.

Cast: Robert De Niro (Mendoza), Jeremy Irons (Gabriel), Ray McAnally (Altamirano), Aidan Quinn (Felipe), Ronald Pickup (Hontar), Cherie Lunghi (Carlotta), Chuck Low (Cabeza), Liam Neeson (Fielding), Bercelio Moya (Indian Boy), Sigifredo Ismare (Witch Doctor), Asuncion Ontiveros (Indian Chief), Alejandro Moya (Chief's Lieutenant), Daniel Berrigan (Sebastian), Rolf Gray (Young Jesuit), Alvaro Guerrero (Jesuit), Screenwriter: Robert Bolt Cinematographer: Chris Menges Composer: Ennio Morricone Producer: Fernando Ghia and David Puttnam for Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 126 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1986: Cinematography; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Costume Design, Director (Roland Joffe), Editing, Picture, Score; Cannes Film Festival, 1986: Film; Golden Globe Awards, 1986: Screenplay, Score; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, 1986: Cinematography Budget: $22M Box Office: $17.2M (gross).

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