At Play in the Fields of the Lord is how half-breed Cheyenne mercenary Lewis Moon describes his location to missionaries before he parachutes into the Amazon jungle to seek his essence among a tribe called the Niaruna. Tale that follows – a challenging, cerebral and beautifully controlled take on Peter Matthiessens revered 1965 novel – amounts to a cry of warning against interference with a delicate ecological and cultural balance.
Central to this telling are two men: a callous, brooding jungle rat (Tom Berenger) and his nemesis (Aidan Quinn), a dedicated Evangelical worker. One is in the Brazilian jungle town of Mae de Deus to bring Christianity to the Indians; the other is there to bomb them out of their habitat so the Brazilian government can seize their land. Each subverts his own mission, only to find that his presence among the natives can bring them only ill.
Film has a bracing story that hews remarkably close to the novel. Action is a bit stiff and pedantic at first as it stakes out its philosophical turf but then softens and blooms.
Among the first-rate ensemble cast are Kathy Bates as Quinn’s shrill, hysterically repressed wife; John Lithgow as a briskly buffoonish fellow missionary; Daryl Hannah as Lithgow’s sweetly blank and dogmatic wife; and Tom Waits in his best showcase ever as Moon’s sidekick and soul of self-mocking depravity.
Pic was shot over a harrowing six months in the remote jungle town of Belem, Brazil. Lauro Escorel’s cinematography is spellbinding.