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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

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The Mission (1986) on IMDb

Plot Overview

In 1494 the Vatican mediated the Treaty of Tordesillas whereby Portugal and Spain split the New World along a line of longitude granting Spain most of South America. They thought they got it all, but geographically ignorant they'd ceded Brazil to Portugal who'd pulled a fast one on them. In 1750 the Treaty of Madrid—and previously the treaty of Alcacovas—reapportioned the land west of Brazil to Portugal, as well. This film is set during the Jesuit Reductions, a program by which Jesuit missionaries—teachers, educators in philosophy and religion, an intelligentsia of the Catholic Church—set up missions to indoctrinate the natives into Christianity.

Spain was ostensibly free from slavery, but Portugal traded in slaves to advance its empire. The new boundaries put the region of the Eastern Missions, comprising seven villages of the Jesuits remaining on the left bank of the Uruguay river, into Portuguese hands. The Jesuits were reluctant to abandon these missions to the tender mercies of the Portuguese slave traders, but the Vatican insisted they toe the line and withdraw, else their whole order was in jeopardy, also the Catholic Church for rubbing the crowns the wrong way. The Guarani people of the San Carlos Mission elected to fight the European powers. The Guarani War lasted from 1752 to 1756. Its start and its lead-up is covered by “The Mission.” It ultimately motivated the Pragmatic Sanction of 1767, whereby Charles III expelled the Jesuits from all territories overseas.


“The Mission” is shown from the viewpoint of papal legate Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McAnally) penning a letter to his holiness the Pope. “This seeking a paradise on earth,” he observes, “how easy is it to offend.” The San Carlos Mission offended the Portuguese traders (bandeirantes) by its very success religious, social, and economic. They needed the people to be back­wards so their enslavement could be thought of as doing them a favor, but the Jesuits elevated these jungle bunnies to harmonious sainthood. “There's nothing we like better,” said the trader, “than a noble failure.” Rather, though, their success and equality belonged to God who, (Eph. 2:6, 10) “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: ... For we are his work­man­ship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

The work of the mission focused on two Jesuits: Spanish priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) and reformed Mercenary & killer Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro). The former was supremely patient and the latter a tempera­mental hot­head. They took different approaches to aiding the Guarani when war seemed inevitable, which could aptly be described by, (Prov. 16:32) “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Production Values

This film, “The Mission” (1986) was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, and Ray McAnally. McAnally gave a star performance, Irons did well, and De Niro did fine for a supporting role but didn't live up to his full potential we're used to. Natives of the People of Wanauna played the Guarani, supposedly with racy language in their own tongue. The crew only managed to pack four stunt­men into the bush, so many of the actors did their own stunts, particularly De Niro who wanted the real experience. The Indian Chief was played by social activist Asuncion Ontiveros who felt the native cause was right up his alley. Liam Neeson played Gabriel's colleague Father Fielding who I kept expecting to rise up with martial talents, but that's my fault, not his.

This movie was rated PG. Chris Menges's cinematography of the beautiful natural setting was splendid. The majestic score by Ennio Morricone is unequalled in cinema. The London Philharmonic Orchestra performed.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“The Mission” is driven by sounds and scenery, not by plot and people. I just went with it as I love all kinds of movies and take them as they come. It's not a feel good movie, but it doesn't go out of its way to be unsettling either. It is what it is.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.