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.