The Mission | Chicago Reader

The Mission

Aguirre? Fitzcarraldo? Mere Herzogian impostors, says director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields), whose own idea of Sisyphean exertion involves pitting Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro against the combined forces of 18th-century colonialism and untamed Brazilian nature with the weight of a Robert Bolt screenplay on their backs. Irons and De Niro are the godly missionaries who try to save an Indian tribe from extermination, and Joffe/Bolt let no opportunity slip for underlining the natives' sorry plight: even the emaciated Father Peace (so gaunt and insipid he has to be a saint) and the irascible Father Sword can't contain the terrible swift savagery of the invading colonial butchers. Bolt's moralizing ironies (as leaden here as in A Man for All Seasons and assorted David Lean scenarios) are enough to sink a thousand war canoes, and Joffe doesn't help things along with his patronizing vision of native innocence: the Indians only exist to be sentimentalized—as angels, victims, and amiable rehab projects for enterprising Christians. The visual styling is often vigorous and active, and Killing Fields cinematographer Chris Menges brings a telephoto lushness to the imagery (lots of muted earth tones and filters), but everything else is sanctimonious slush. Joffe aspires to outmuscling Herzog but only succeeds in out-Leaning Lean. With Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, Liam Neeson, and Ronald Pickup; the forgettable score is by Ennio Morricone (1986, 125 min.).

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