The story for "The Mission" was written by Robert Bolt. Roland Joffe became interested in the script and produced a film in 1986 using British investors. The film did not have a huge release, but won the hearts of critics for its heartfelt portrayal of the Jesuit mission in South America.
The story begins with a Jesuit priest named Father Gabriel venturing into the mountainous terrain of the "Guarana Republic" of South America. His goal is to establish a Jesuit mission to convert the local Indians from their savage ways. He quickly runs into a tribe that initially appears hostile, but gladly welcomes him into their village, where a missionary is then established.
The film takes place in the mid-18th century, when Spain and Portugal were both vying for land in South America, but with different intentions. The Spanish saw the Indians as potential converts to Catholicism, but the Portuguese saw them as potential slaves. One such slaver is Rodrigo Mendoza, who makes expeditions into the jungle to capture Indians and sell them at the market.
Rodrigo and his brother suddenly discover discover that they love the same woman. They engage in a duel, but Rodrigo wins and quickly regrets killing his brother for a woman and ends up in a sanitarium. Later, he seeks salvation by journeying into the jungle to join the Jesuit missionary led by Father Gabriel and really seems to have redeemed himself.
However, things take a turn for the worse when Spain decides to sign a treaty to turn over the land containing the Jesuit missionary to the Portuguese. Gabriel and Mendoza lobby the local cardinal, Altamirano, to press the Spanish government not to sign the treaty, but ultimately fail. As a result, their missionary is attacked by Portuguese soldiers and they decide to defend it to the death.
Father Gabriel is played by Jeremy Irons, a veteran actor. Robert De Niro takes on the role of Mendoza with an unusually quiet manner, but really plays the character convincingly. Aidan Quinn makes a cameo as Mendoza's brother Felipe and LIam Neeson also makes an appearance as one of Gabriel's followers. The role of Cardinal Altamirano is played by Ray McAnally.
One thing that really struck me about this film was the beautiful soundtrack. It was entirely composed by Ennio Morricone, a famous Italian composer, and he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Music that year. All of the music is classical and features the voices of Indians chanting and singing, making many scenes quite eery and dramatic.
The visuals in the film are equally impressive since the film was almost entirely made in Argentina and Colombia. The jungles of South America are thus accurately represented here, and they are quite magnificent. One of the main visual components is a giant waterfall that Father Gabriel must climb in order to reach the Indian camp.
By the end of the film, I was really moved by the desperate heroics of the Jesuits and the Indians. It is quite sad to think that events like this one took place in real life, but it is a sad fact of life that tragedies occur. With that said, this is not an overly happy film, but it is very dramatic and enjoyable nonetheless.