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The Mission

Year: 1986
Director: Roland Joffe
Writer: Roland Joffe
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn
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A gorgeous and lavish story up there with that of the finest visual masters of the medium like David Lean. Joffee both wrote and directed this virtuoso masterpiece, although the only time I've seen his name come up again is on the straight-to-video Vatel.

A Jesuit missionary is murdered by the native tribespeople living above a waterfall in the jungle hinterland between Paraguay Brazil.

A priest from the mission, Father Gabriel, climbs the waterfall to investigate and meets the tribespeople, who accept him as their own after some suspicion, letting him establish another mission in their lands, after which the missionaries and natives live together in perfect harmony.

Meanwhile, slavetrader and mercenary Rodrigo (De Niro) is put in jail after killing his own brother in a crime of passion, and it's from there Gabriel encourages him to embrace God and forgive himself, something Rodrigo does so absolutely he joins the church. The scene of him dragging the net full of metal up the mountains for penance is heartbreaking and powerful.

Trouble brews in Europe, however, as the Spanish and Portugese conquistadors start to carve up the lands of South America for colonisation, and after a senior priest surveys the missions of the area, he virtually starts a war by decreeing the mission closed down and the tribespeople disbanded.

The Jesuits, led by Rodrigo and an idealistic young priest (a very young Liam Neeson), stage defensive measures – Rodrigo drawing on his violent past and rallying many of the natives behind him.

As it's based on a true story, you might know how it ends, but despite the absence of a happy ending, the film has everything going for it. The sweeping, lush and haunting photography is perfectly accompanied by Ennio Morricone's score, and it features two performers at their peak of their abilities under Joffe's eye, one with a very keen sense of the flavour movie he was making, and which he did to the letter.

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