Although this 1986 Roland Joffé film won high praise, the acclaim was by no means universal. Not a few reviewers criticized it for depicting Christianized natives in 18th Century South America as little more than talking mannequins à la the old Tarzan movies. Many of these same reviewers also maintained that the script and scope of the film restricted the ability of Jeremy Irons (Father Gabriel) and Robert DeNiro (a reformed slave trader named Mendoza) to develop their celluloid alter egos beyond mere symbols of character types. However, almost every critic lauded the glorious cinematography of Chris Menges, who captured the naked beauty of a pristine wilderness -- and the raw brutality of a violent conflict between the noble and the ignoble. To its credit the film raises important questions for people of every age: Do educated, civilized and god-fearing people have a right, or even a duty, to enlighten the uninitiated? Or is it better to heed the words of poet Thomas Gray: "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise"? In the battle scene near the end, perceived heroes and villains alike fall before the fury of bullets and arrows, but it is the innocent native children caught in the crossfire who command the audience's attention. Joffé does quite well in this scene -- and leaves filmgoers with something of substance to think about.
by Mike Cummings review