***½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B
starring Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn
screenplay by Robert Bolt
directed by Roland Joffé
by Jefferson Robbins Career arcs fascinate and depress me. The Mission finds Roland Joffé at his early peak on just his second movie, making what amounts to a $25 million art film starring one of America's best-known actors. Did Joffé change beyond this point, or did he refuse to change while the ecosystem altered around him? A bit of both, I suspect, after Fat Man and Little Boy and The Scarlet Letter. These epics went unembraced, and Oscars or no, the financiers weren't always going to settle for contemplative examinations of people caught in the turning of historical tides. Yet that's where Joffé was at his best--and maybe he couldn't get beyond it. Spalding Gray had him pegged early on: "Leave it to a Brit to tell you your own history," he advised in Swimming to Cambodia. Sure enough, as in The Killing Fields, Joffé's The Mission examines pangs of conscience at a critical moment of political, religious, and cultural upheaval.