If you have to crawl – or be carried – go and see The Mission a spectacular – thrilling – action-packed film with a spiritual message. Wrongly called an ‘epic film’ – shades of John Wayne – it’s a magnificent story of bravery and dedication – (and almost completely beyond the intelligence of some of our local critics who gave it faint praise. They think the Color of Money (which I saw) is ‘great’. With Paul Newman starring as an ageing pool shark ushering in a new generation of pool sharks – (Mon Dieu! What an important theme).


I am not asking you to run down to the theatre to see a religious film of dubious or propaganda value but the Winner in the Best Film category at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The music alone is worth the price of admission – composed, orchestrated and conducted by Ennio Morricone. It’s simply enchanting. (I bought the LP at the Ontario premiere and have been playing it ever since.)


The Mission is a beautiful and touching story of a mercenary named Mendoza in a South America of 1750, which is being fought over by both the Portugese and Spanish. Mendoza who is excellent played by Robert De Niro, ruthlessly hunts down members of the Guarani Indian tribe and sells them into slavery. The script by Robert (A Man for All Seasons) Bolt, is sharp, witty and thought-provoking and moves the film along quickly. The directing, by Rolane Joffe, (The Killing Fields), is flawless; the scenery, Iguazu Falls and Indian villages and the rampaging rivers is simply glorious.


Why am I so nuts about a film about two Jesuit priests starting a mission among the Indians in South America in a most inhospitable area, where a previous Jesuit priest had been murdered?  (He’d been clubbed to death by the Indians but the film makes a much better theatrical statement by having him crowned with thorns, stabbed in the side, tied to a cross and sent to his death over the Iguazu Falls, which symbolized the original repudiation of Christianity.)  Why?  Because it speaks to my heart of brave missionaries who went off in years gone by to unknown lands to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ to hostile, suspicious and largely unenthusiastic people.


The Mission represents a victory after a 15-year struggle by Italian producer Fernando Ghis to bring the story to the screen, aided at a crucial time by British producer, David Puttnam, (Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields) to raise the 18 million dollars to complete the film. Hats off to both of them!


But let’s get back to the cast. Jeremy Irons, talented British actor, (The French Lieutenant’s Woman), was suggested for the role by Putnam, when it was decided to go with a younger actor (instead of American Jesuit and activist Daniel Berrigan, originally considered for the role), and he was signed just three weeks before the film started. What a great choice!  He plays brilliantly off Robert De Niro and almost eclipses him in the film. If Jeremy doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination – I’m going to sue.


An Irish actor, Ray McAnally, who plays the archbishop and papal representative sent to close the mission down, darn near steals the whole film from De Niro and Irons. He plays Altamirano to the hilt – benign, kindly and hurting. I have seen the film twice (so far) and his performance still haunts me. When rotten colonial minded governments, ostensibly Catholic, threaten and blackmail the Church and its missionary operations in the pursuit of their crass goals of money, land, prestige and power it really enrages me. Shame on us!  What trials we have put our Church to. Would you believe it – a Toronto critic thought McAnally, De Niro and Irons were miscast because they didn’t look Spanish enough?  Talk about stereotypes – shame on him!  McAnally spent three years in a seminary before he found his vocation was acting and it stood him in good stead in this role, which he was delighted with. He was quoted as saying in the event of his death Irish TV could put on The Mission to serve as a showcase for his talents. Amen!


And let’s not forget the Indian native people of the Waunana communities of Pangalia, Bujuron, Papayo and Togorama – they acted themselves and did a wonderful job of it.

And now – I know you’re anxious to know my nominations for the top ten films of 1986 and here they are:


The Mission. The Mission. The Mission. The Mission. The Mission.

The Mission. The Mission. The Mission. The Mission. The Mission.


There is no number eleven.