Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Mission ****

Recently AFI released a top 25 list of best film scores written. It was a terrible list, with predictably the emotionally detached but hummable Star Wars at #1 and Gone With the Wind at #2. It doesn't get much better from there, but it did have "Out of Africa" (John Barry) and "The Mission" (Ennio Morricone) (although On Golden Pond and The Pink Panther are also good, they are not top 25 material)

It may be the only thing "The Mission" is remembered for - that theme "The River" (Vita Nostra) that is used occasionally in film trailers. Oh yeah, and that notorious scene at the beginning where the guy is sent down a waterfall is bound to a cross.

That scene, of mixed horror and spellbinding beauty, is a lot of what "The Mission" is like. Being as critical as possible, The Mission is one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most beautiful films ever made.

The synopsis: The setting is the 17th Century, South America. Our Protagonist is Jeremy Irons, a priest who, unlike the Hollywood stereotype of "villanous priest," is really quite pacifist - Ghandi-style. I generally find Christians annoying, but I might just get along with this guy. He sets off, alone in the jungle, to start a mission to try and convert the natives to Christianity. He climbs the cliffs next to the waterfall and at the top runs into some naturals and manages to avoid becoming the guy in the opening scene by playing an Ennio Morricone theme on his oboe.

Another character has to come into play here, and its Robert DeNiro. After Irons has successfully set up a small mission and befriended most of the naturals, he runs into DeNiro, a slave trader who takes some of the naturals captive. This time the camera follows DeNiro who inevitably kills his brother in a fit of jealousy. When Irons meets him later in jail, he is ready for redemption, so Irons, and another priest played by some guy called Liam Neeson (!) take him up the cliffs with them, DeNiro carrying a huge pack of armor. DeNiro mercilessly drags himself up out of self hatred. After making it to the top (barely) he feels redeemed and becomes a priest of the mission.

Irons, DeNiro and young Liam will eventually to save the mission from Portuguese soldiers who would like to kill all the naturals and destroy the mission because, well, because the naturals are beasts, and we have to kill the beasts, right?

The Mission was made by the people who made "The Killing Fields" which is a great film, but not as great as this. If Chris Menges' photography in The Killing Fields was pretty, in The Mission its stunning. If Roland Joffe(director) had an Axe to grind in The Killing Fields, he has an army of axes to grind here. If Haing Ngor was great in The Killing Fields...well, DeNiro is maybe not quite as great as Ngor, but still worthy of a huge amount of attention.

And "The Mission" had a WAY better score than "Star Wars"

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