Redemption scene from “The Mission” (1986) dir. Roland Joffe

At one point during the mid-1980s, Roland Joffe was considered one of the world’s best film directors. His first two films: “The Killing Fields” (1984) and “The Mission” were nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with a “work-in-progress” version of “The Mission” winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.

Nowadays, Ennio Morricone’s stellar soundtrack for “The Mission” is better remembered than the film itself. Mainly because Joffe’s post “Mission” film career has not lived up to the promise of his first two films. I have mixed feelings about “The Mission,” but this scene never ceases to bring me to tears.

Robert DeNiro’s character is a South American slave-trader who kills his brother in a duel after he catches him in bed with his fiance. While DeNiro’s character is acquitted of legal wrong-doing, his guilt overwhelms him. A priest, played by Jeremy Irons, challenges him to undertake a suitable penance. The penance is to carry a heavy bundle, including his armor and sword, across many miles into the territory where he captured slaves. The people who he used to enslave recognize him, are ready to kill him, but under the guidance of Irons’ priest, cut him loose. DeNiro’s character’s acknowledgement of the grace of a people who were ready to slit his throat is heartbreaking.

You may recognize a young Liam Neeson in the background … approximately 20 years before he became our generation’s version of Charles Bronson.

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