I've seen this movie twice, and it's a decent movie, but hardly a masterpiece. I watched it mainly because Roland Joffe's debut feature, The Killing Fields, was one of the most powerful and riveting films I've ever seen (a perfect 10/10 and my pick for best drama film of the 80s) and was curious to see how his follow-up film would fare. Unfortunately, I thought The Mission was a huge step backward and it seems like Joffe's just been getting worse and worse over the years.
There are aspects of the film worth mentioning and worthy of praise. I particularly liked Ennio Morricone's score and Chris Menges' cinematography, though the latter is likely due more to the scenery than any actual bit of camerawork by Menges himself.
But I had trouble getting emotionally invested in the film. The Guarini themselves are presented in a rather faceless manner. Acting as our audience surrogate are Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro, but Irons' performance, while showing passion, is somewhat one-note and not particularly well-developed while De Niro just seems plain miscast. Fascinatingly, I can't help but wonder how much better film the could have been if Liam Neeson had De Niro's role. If anything, Morricone's score generates more emotional response than anything onscreen itself.
The film also never moves smoothly from one act to the next. It begins as a redemption tale for Rodrigo, then turns into a tale of political and moral arguments, and finally ends with a "last stand" battle scene. Each segment of the film is worse than the preceding one.
The climactic battle sequence is really where I felt Joffe began the point of no return in terms of his filmmaking decline. This is a poorly filmed, choreographed, and edited mess of a sequence. It's not as if though there were technological or filmmaking limitations at the time that prevented the filming of convincingly realistic battle scenes. Platoon came out the same year and featured some of the most terrifying battle scenes put to film. This was just a case of a director who was in over his head.
I don't know, the more I write, the more I realize that there's less to this film that I like. I had originally intended to score this film a 6/10 but feel it might be more deserving of a 5/10.