I found the first half of this movie to be intriguing. Jeremy Irons plays a Spanish Jesuit (with a thick English accent, so I guess I came down too hard on Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). I’ve always liked Irons, although I don’t know why. I even made it all the way through Brideshead Revisited. But I can’t think of any particularly stunning performances by him, including this one where he Mr. Rogers his way through this film. His most notable acting moment might have been as the voice of Scar in Lion King. And he was an interesting villain in the otherwise mediocre movie, Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
This isn’t one of De Niro’s best performances either. The actors really aren’t given much material to sink their teeth into. But De Niro does carry the first half of this movie on his shoulders as he is converted from a slaver to a Jesuit priest. But even this transition happens too fast. But there is a good scene with Irons visiting De Niro in De Niro’s self-imposed cell as he tries to help him put his life together after a tragic event.
De Niro then joins the Order and pays penance by dragging his heavy bundle of armor through the rivers and jungle and back to the mission that Irons is building high atop an escarpment. This is perhaps the film’s best moment.
But after that, the movie doesn’t have all that much to offer. The Portuguese are, because of treaty with the Spanish, acquiring the territory that the mission is built upon. And then it inevitably becomes a predictable movie about martyrs facing down heavily-armed soldiers. Guess who wins. There’s nothing much cheery or light in this one, for sure. It almost makes Apocalypto seem like a comedy.
But the cinematography and score are stupendous. You’ll want to run out and book a trip with your travel agent to see those majestic cliffs and waterfalls in wherever-the-hell South America
It’s heartbreaking to see the natives used so badly. But modern audiences have an interesting, perhaps stilted, perspective, as evinced by this one poster at IMDB.com:
This movie was a total glorification of the cocept of “The White Man’s Burden.” This was a concept that was born around the age of exploration that essentially said that it was the white man’s responsibility to convert everyone to Christianity in order to save their souls. I don’t really need to point out that this is one of the most disgustingly arrogant and racist concepts in history, basically stating that all non-Christians are heathens and are all going to hell unless they convert to the words of Jesus. Granted, I know that was a different time, but why in 1986 were we still glorifying this concept. In this film, you have these Jesuits who just come into this tribe, force the words of christianity on them, have them build churches and abandon their old ways and beliefs, because their old beliefs obviously weren’t good enough. And the film makes it look so riteous and good.
There is little doubt that “the white man’s burden” has been replaced with “the white man’s guilt.” I don’t know how true-to-life this movie is, but it’s surely true that Christians built missions all over the savage world and didn’t always have to strong-arm the natives to come worship and take part in what we would consider a civilized life.
But the modern viewer says, “Hey, there’s nothing superior about indoor plumbing, life-saving medicine, and not eating your neighbors for lunch.” Their only perspective is “Who are we to say that we are better?” Well, clearly in this movie, the natives voted with their feet. They enjoyed the material and spiritual enhancements offered by this Jesuit mission, particularly because it offered some refuge from the European slave traders.
And it’s an odd perspective for anyone on the Left to have, for aren’t the rest of us simply the ignorant savages to be civilized by our Progressive betters?
It must be said about this movie that both De Niro and Irons are in their prime. Although I found Irons to be a little dull and unanimated, he has that golden voice. And De Niro, although robbed of his trademark smirk and wrinkle-eyed squint in this more serious role, he’s, well, De Niro. And with his beard and hair he looks a bit like Jesus himself.
De Niro is also charming in his interaction with the natives, an element of the movie that could have been played up more. But unfortunately the movie gets bogged down by the politics behind the scenes that occur elsewhere that involve a cardinal and some very nasty Portuguese. The pacing of this movie is not particularly good. But it does have star power.
And like Bananarama says:
A walk in the park can become a bad dream
People are staring and following me
This is my only escape from it all
Watching a film or a face on the wall
Robert De Niro’s waiting
Talking Italian (Talking Italian)
Or perhaps Spanish. • (1644 views)