The Mission is a film directed by Roland Joffé (and by now I’ve seen two movies made by this director: this one and Vatel reviewed here) with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro as protagonists. Released in 1986, it won several awards and was considered a success. Has it aged well? No, it hasn’t, at least in my opinion (I’m among the few who don’t like this movie too much), and I’ll write why below.
The movie takes place in the first half of the XVIII century somewhere between Brazil and Paraguay where a bunch of Spanish Jesuits want to evangelize the poor natives who still live in their own traditional way. Meanwhile, those same poor natives are massacred and captured to be sold as slaves by other Spaniards more interested in money than in sacred writings.
Jeremy Irons plays a missionary and Robert De Niro plays a violent and unscrupulous Spanish captain who, after killing his brother in a duel, repents and becomes a priest to help Irons in his mission. Things are going great until 1750, when the Treaty of Madrid is signed: part of the Paraguayan territory gets sold to Portugal and unfortunately for the two protagonists their mission is destined to fall into Portuguese hands. At that point De Niro remembers his past, takes up the sword, and defends the converted natives together with the other missionaries (including a young Liam Neeson, who should have single-handedly slaughtered any Portuguese soldier: after all, he’s Ra’s al Ghul, Qui-Gon Jinn, and also Bryan Mills!)!
So, to me the story feels a bit trivial, but above all it differs considerably from the real facts! No Jesuit fought against the Portuguese, the religious people all left before the new conquerors arrived! Something vaguely similar happened in the middle of the XVII century with the battle of Mbororé, but nothing more than that. Also, the characters are little more than sketched, there is no evolution worthy of the name (De Niro fights, repents, and then fights again: really?), there are no dialogues to remember.
We are also talking about a film that should make us sympathize with the natives and the natives themselves are just extras! There is no native character worthy of note, no one standing out. And I found it hard to sympathize with the Jesuits who went there to eradicate the culture of these poor natives. Let’s say that throughout the film I only hoped that the natives massacred both the Jesuits and the Spanish and Portuguese invaders as they had done at the beginning of the film with the crucified missionary thrown down the river!
So maybe (just maybe) I’m not the right audience for this film… and that’s unfortunate, because the film is very well made, I have to admit! The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is amazing, the cinematography is splendid, everything is filmed in a Latin American forest which makes for impressive scenery… but for me there are problems in the subject and the screenplay. More or less, I have the same impression I had when watching Vatel, made by the same director. With the aggravating circumstance of the theme, especially given how the movie treated the natives who, in my opinion, should have been at the center of the film and not only in the background. Ciao!