Monday, 24 March 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1986: Jeremy Irons in The Mission

Jeremy Irons did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Father Gabriel in The Mission.

The Mission depicts the attempt of Jesuit missionaries to defend the freedom of a remote South American tribe of natives. The film does have many great things about it including basically every technical aspect of the film particularly the beautiful score by Ennio Morricone. The film is even written by Robert Bolt who wrote several excellent epics, but the directing by Roland Joffé is very  inconsistent. Some scenes do achieve a certain greatness but certain pivotal scenes come off as painfully inadequate.

Jeremy Irons plays the lead Jesuit priest Father Gabriel who tries to bring Christianity to the natives in a peaceful and loving fashion. Although Robert De Niro as Rodrigo has the greater character arc as Rodrigo goes from slaver to Jesuit to justified fighter, Irons gives the much more assured performance out of the two. The two or you could say three performances by Irons that I have conversed have been rather brilliant performances by him but as very devious sorts. This is a very different type of role by Irons's as Father Gabriel is a very good man who does not want to reach out to the natives to control them, but rather connect with them. Gabriel in the film wants nothing more than what he believes is best for the people, and is a character of true selflessness throughout the story.

Irons is wonderful in the part, and I would say he is the best part of the film outside of the score and its technical accomplishments. Irons firstly gives a very genuine portrayal of the goodness Gabriel. This is interesting in that to most people Irons is probably known best for being a conniving villain in films like the Lion King and Die Hard 3. Irons is just as much at home in playing Gabriel who is a man who absolutely tries to believe in the best of mankind. Irons who is so good at playing ice cold carries a splendid warmth in his portrayal of Gabriel. It's such a kindness that Irons exudes so well here that goes even beyond a tenderness in his voice. Although restrained in terms of the type of man he is, this is actually a surprisingly physical performance by Irons.

He's not physical in the normal way you would think of it but the way he carries himself just accentuates the love in Gabriel's heart so beautifully. One of the most important scenes in the film is when Rodrigo fettered with his old armor as the weight is confronted by the natives the very people he hunted and enslaved. The scene is one of the well handled ones and the score, De Niro's performance and the whole scene do work in giving power to Rodrigo finding redemption threw the natives forgiving him, but what I find the most powerful moment in the scene belongs to Irons. All it technically is a simple embrace Gabriel gives Rodrigo, but Irons portrays it in such a genuinely loving and honest fashion that he brings to life the great power of forgiveness in the scene.

When Gabriel is not helping the natives live peacefully or help Rodrigo find the righteous path he must defend the natives from the colonial governments who wish to exploit them. He tries to convince his Cardinal (Ray McNally) that the mission must stay open as it is the only source of protection for them. Irons is very effective in these scenes bringing the passion one should expect in his speeches where he tries to not only protect the natives but defend their nature as people. Irons is most than just passion though and that is what makes his performance stand out. There is always a tenderness even in the passion of his performance and in that tenderness he brings he reinforces the goodness of Gabriel in such an effective and wholly natural fashion.

Gabriel beliefs are so strong though that he still refuses to fight the soldiers who are going to come to destroy the mission, even though his fellow priests as well as Rodrigo take up the sword. Irons shows that Gabriel definitely is not a coward though and rather his refusal to fight gets right down to the core of his being. Irons's best scene in the film is when Gabriel argues to Rodrigo over this point. Irons is especially moving as Gabriel insists that the world should be that of love rather than hate, and refuses to accept anything else. There is nothing naive in Irons's delivery rather he makes it far more heartbreaking by honestly portraying Gabriel's resolve. Irons alludes to that Gabriel perhaps knows it is futile, and with that shows the true resolve of man who absolutely believes the best in mankind.

The part of Gabriel could have very well been forgettable within the whole scheme of the film, or just behind the more volatile role of Rodrigo, but Jeremy Irons makes it so his depiction of Gabriel is one of the strongest facets of the film. Although often Joffé's direction falters to bring the best out of the material, Irons whenever he is onscreen does realize a great deal of the potential of the story through his performance. Irons earns the right to be surrounded by Morricone's score, as the nature he brings out of Gabriel with his work is fitting to the beauty of Morricone's music. There is not a false moment to be found with his Gabriel and all of the goodness of the character is never dull or unbelievable because Irons realizes it so gracefully.


Michael McCarthy said...

Looks like a very strong 4.5, Hackman better do pretty well if my predictions are to succeed...

I agree that the directing is very inconsistent and I thought it was strange how much they focused on De Niro's character in the first half and how little they did in the second half. But I also loved the score and thought the ending was very moving.

luke higham said...

Louis: rating & thoughts on De Niro.

Kevin said...

Louis, what would be your ranking, as well as thoughts, on Martin Scorsese's films?

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: De Niro - 4(Although I could lean to a 3.5 as he does start out very badly. It is not helped by the odd direction of the pivotal scene of Rodrigo killing his brother. De Niro just seems out of place and the film does not seem to go into the right details about Rodrigo's evil ways. After that though he actually gives a pretty moving portrayal of Rodrigo's emotional downfall then his redemption. He ends being pretty powerful in his final scenes in a purely silent depiction of Rodrigo's struggle to save the natives)


1. Goodfellas (Flawless film that is such a fascinating look into the life of the mob. Although it doesn't shy away from the worst aspects of it it never is overwhelmed by it. Every minute of it is captivating with fantastic performances to boot)

2. The Wolf of Wall Street (Sure it's the comedic remake of Goodfellas but so what. Although perhaps longer than it needs to be it is a supremely entertaining and hilarious look into a different life of crime)

3. Mean Streets (A more casual look into the life of crime and creates a terrific atmosphere among the small group of men in the film. Not as intense in terms of it's power as Goodfellas but great in its own less assuming fashion)

4. Raging Bull (Not my favorite film to watch but it is brilliantly directed and acted film)

5. Taxi Driver (I don't consider it the masterpiece some do but it is very effective depiction of one's man's madness as well as just the whole seediness of New York City itself)

6. Shutter Island (Although I do think I would have preferred a different lead still a great exploitation picture which I think some critics failed to realize. Some amazing art direction, a particularly fitting score, and a whole array of great supporting players makes it one memorable psychological thriller)

7. The Departed (It is the right type of re-make by the fact that he turns it into a different beast altogether. That being a consistently compelling plot driven crime picture)

8. Hugo (The Melies scenes are some of Scorsese's best. The rest is not as good, but still an enjoyable enough children's adventure picture)

9. Gangs of New York (To be topical it is rather like The Mission in that there are some truly great things about it, but some rather severe inconsistencies. It is a spectacular technical accomplishment and like half of the ensemble is great, but with some notable problematic performances. All of the parts of the tale don't quite come together as they should though, leaving it with some great scenes, but also some rather questionable ones)

10. The Aviator (It's a completely fine film, but just that. It does not distinguish itself all that well which is a sin for a Scorsese film)

11. Casino (Like Goodfellas, but it failed to really interest me. The characters just are not as compelling and the whole story just comes off as much flatter)

12. The Color of Money (You probably would not think Scorsese directed this if you did not see his name on it. Newman is fine, but Cruise is intolerable. The whole story fails to make good use of Fast Eddie and falls very short as a follow up to the Hustler)

13. Cape Fear (Fails in far too many regards. In a story like this you do need a hero, but the choice to make everyone trash just made me not care what happened to any of the trash. De Niro is way over the top, but so is Scorsese direction all too often particularly in the final boat showdown which comes off as ridiculous.)

Still have several I need to see.

Michael McCarthy said...

I can't wait to see what you think of The King of Comedy, I think it's the most underrated film in the Scorsese canon. It also might be De Niro's all-time best performance, which is saying a lot. He's so excellent at making the audience feel just how chillingly uncomfortable his character is to be around, and his last comedy routine is an excellent piece of showmanship.

Matt Mustin said...

I'm also curious to hear your thoughts on Last Temptation of Christ once you've seen it.

Matt Mustin said...

Also, in regards to Hugo, what are your thoughts on Ben Kingsley's performance?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Am I the only one that doesn't really like Hugo?

Matt Mustin said...

Robert: Not if you talk to my dad, you're not.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your thoughts/ratings for:

Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters

Robbie Coltrane in Philpsopher's Stone

Matthew Broderick in Election

Jeremy Irons in The Lion King

Daniel Bruhl in Goodbye Lenin!

Michael Patison said...

What's your rating and thoughts on McAnally here and in My Left Foot?

Michael Patison said...

He hasn't seen Brühl in Goodbye Lenin!

Michael Patison said...

Who would be your top 5 (or 10) most underrated actors, actresses, and directors, Louis? (I'm most interested in the last.)

Louis Morgan said...

Matt - Kingsley is very good at being the curmudgeon at first, but then very much earns his transition as the film progresses. The flashbacks are the highlight of his performance as well as the film. As the love of film and film making is made so pronounced through both Kingsley's performance and Scorsese's direction.


Ramis - 4.5 (Hilarious portrayal of a super genius with such a brilliantly dead pan streak in his performance. I particularly love his response about Egon's experiment that involved drilling a hole in his head)

Coltrane - 4(Exactly how you imagine Hagrid should be. He's genuinely sweet and warm but with just the right daffiness to go along with it)

Broderick - 3.5(Not a fan of Broderick but he is good enough here. He's enjoyable in being the seemingly nice teacher while not really being that at all. I do feel though that a superior actor could have made the role a great one instead of just a good one.

Irons - 3.5(Second only to George Sanders when it comes to Lions as his voice just seems to fit the creature so perfectly. Scar just needs to be evil and Irons brings that evil with quite the delicious aftertaste)


McNally not out of the question for 89.

As for the Mission - 3(It is a solid enough piece of acting in being the slightly sympathetic authority figure in the film. He's good, but he never left that much of an impact overall)


1. Richard Attenborough
2. Brendan Gleeson
3. Ben Foster
4. Tom Courtenay
5. Viggo Mortensen


1. Geraldine Page
2. Joan Fontaine
3. Teresa Wright
4. Wendy Hiller
5. Sissy Spacek


1. Peter Weir
2. William Wellman
3. Kihachi Okamoto
4. Charles Crichton
5. John Carpenter

luke higham said...

Louis: your rating & thoughts on Attenborough in The Great Escape.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'd add John Hillcoat to directors, though I suppose Lawless might have been a bit too far of a misstep for some.

Matt Mustin said...

I'd like to add Casey Affleck to the list of actors, although he might not be underrated so much as underused.

Anonymous said...

When will the next review be up Louis :)

RatedRStar said...

I am very glad that Courtenay is on that list, he is a legend over here in the UK especially for his classic british films.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: Attenborough - 4.5(As per usual he gives a magnetic portrayal and a strong depiction of the passion fitting for a man who will fight back even if it may mean his very own death)