Meanwhile, we continue with 1986's contest by taking a look at the following Best Picture nominee...
Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, Ronald Pickup, Chuck Low, Liam Neeson
1 win, for Best Cinematography
In 18th century South America, well-meaning Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Irons) sets up a mission in an area of the jungle accessed only by a precarious waterfall climb. He introduces Christianity to the indigenous Guarani tribe with the help of his fellow priests. The newest recruit to the Jesuit order is Rodrigo (De Niro), a former mercenary and slave-trader with a violent streak, who joined the priesthood as penance after a bout of fratricide.
Everything is hunky-dory for a while until politics gets in the way. The Spanish and Portuguese governments have decided to play around with which parts of the continent they claim as their own and the mission, previously in Spanish territory, is now considered Portuguese. Since Portuguese law is sympathetic to slavery, this is bad news for the Guarani. Enter Cardinal Altamirano (McAnally), a Papal emissary assigned the task of determining whether the Vatican will protect the mission or deliver it to the Portuguese.
My first thought after watching The Mission is how incredibly gruelling the shoot must have been for all involved. Shot on location in and around the rivers, waterfalls and jungles of South America, the natural beauty on display is hard to miss, but nature is not always convenient for film-makers. Nonetheless, convenient or not, the result is a feeling of true immersion in the jungle environment. No wonder the film's only Oscar came for Cinematography.
I am somewhat torn, however, in regard to the film's score. Composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone, The Mission's score includes some genuinely beautiful and moving music, but despite the score's justified long-term critical recognition, some of the tracks seem oddly inappropriate, particularly the thriller-like themes in the film's first act. While these are evocative tunes in their own right, their placement within the film results perhaps in the wrong emotion being evoked. The scenes they underscore are so intensely dramatic as written that the addition of such overtly suspenseful music is overkill, almost cartoonish. Luckily, the tender brilliance of the other more inspirational themes is what is remembered.
The Academy didn't see fit to nominate any of the cast despite some magnificent performances. Jeremy Irons portrays the calm Father Gabriel with strength and passion. Robert De Niro (pictured) is likewise powerful as the volatile Rodrigo, arguably the most physically taxing role in the film. He spends several scenes hiking up muddy inclines attached to an enormous bundle of metal. The cast weren't entirely without accolades, though. Ray McAnally nabbed BAFTA's Best Supporting Actor award for his nuanced turn as the conflicted Altamirano.