‘Directed by Roland Joffé’ Celebrates the Filmmaker’s Early Works

From 'The Killing Fields' to 'City of Joy,' these are Roland Joffé's first four films.
Directed By Roland Joffe

Roland Joffé began his career on television, but he found immediate acclaim with his work directing for the silver screen. His very first feature earned seven Academy Award nominations, his second earned another seven, and they collectively won four Oscars between them. The praise slowed down to a nonexistent trickle in the thirty years and ten films that followed, but the power and beauty of his early work remains.

The movie-loving folks at Australia’s Imprint Films have recently released a box set celebrating those early films, and it’s something of a no-brainer for Joffé fans. Directed by Roland Joffé collects the filmmaker’s first four movies in a well crafted hard box with each film in their own snapcase. Two of the films have yet to see a Blu-ray release in the U.S., and all four are paired here with extras new and old. As always, the only real criticism of Imprint’s release is the lack of new restorations. Accept that, though, and this is yet another winner from the label.

Keep reading for a look at the new box set, Directed by Roland Joffé!

The Killing Fields (1984)

Cambodia descends into chaos when the Communist group Khmer Rouge goes to war against the government and people of the country. Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) is one of many journalists covering the buildup to civil war, and like many of them, he discovers too late that he stayed around too long. He and other Western reporters are aided, though, by a local interpreter named Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) who risks his own life in the process.

The stories being told here, one the intimate friendship between two men from different parts of the world and the other a tragedy of near genocidal proportions, affect the heart in different ways. Both are true stories, but while the former is an inspirational tale of loyalty and love, the other shows humankind at its absolute worst. Waterston is quite good as the determined newspaperman forced to look beyond his job and into his heart, and the supporting Westerners are equally strong with solid turns by John Malkovich, Julian Sands, and others.

It’s Ngor who steals the show, though, as evidenced by his much-deserved Oscar, with a performance capturing the divided feelings of a man who loves his country but hates what it’s become. Ngor had no previous acting experience but lived through the real events that affected his homeland. It’s an equally heartbreaking and hopeful turn as we see the lengths someone will go to survive and reunite with their loved ones.

The Killing Fields comes to Blu-ray with an HD presentation, the theatrical trailer, and extras spread across two discs.

  • Commentary by Roland Joffe
  • *NEW* Exchanges of Trust: Julian Sands Remembers The Killing Fields [19:29] – The celebrated actor, sadly still missing in the mountains outside of Los Angeles since January of 2023, recalls meeting the real-life journalist he portrays here, talks about the incredible prep time they were given before cameras started rolling, and more.
  • *NEW* Violence and Desperation: Chris Menges Remembers The Killing Fields [13:42] – The cinematographer talks about his work in Southeast Asia shooting wartime documentaries and how it brought him to Joffe’s attention.
  • *NEW* Requiem for a Ravaged Land: Scoring The Killing Fields [19:06] – A documentary on Mike Oldfield’s score exploring the score’s mix of traditional and orchestral, the importance of knowing when not to include score, Oldfield’s appropriation of the film’s own sounds, and more.
  • The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor [1:26:50]
  • The Making of The Killing Fields [56:25]
  • David Putnam on The Killing Fields [50:22]
  • Interview with Roland Joffe [44:21]
  • Interview with Bruce Robinson [22:32]
  • Interview with Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran [8:18]
  • Interview with Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor [7:14]
  • “Like a Rose” music video [2:44]

The Mission (1986)

A Jesuit priest named Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) heads into the Paraguayan jungle in the hopes of of converting the Guarani tribe to Christianity and building a mission. It’s an uphill battle, one challenged initially by attacks from European slave traders including Mendoza (Robert De Niro). A twist of fate lands Mendoza among them in search of forgiveness and penance, but soon other “advanced” outsiders begin a violent encroachment.

Arguably Joffé’s best film, The Mission is a gorgeous but sad meditation on human progress at the expense of humanity. The Church’s hypocrisy is nothing new, but the distinction made here is between the individuals who believe in the cause and the higher ups who believe only in profit and power. The immediate threat is slave traders, but the Church essentially gives its blessing — and even if they didn’t, attempts at conversion, often forced, are just another form of terrorism.

The horror is real, but the film finds enormous beauty in Irons, De Niro, Liam Neeson, and others finding friendships and lives intertwined with the locals. Their goal may be conversion, but the journey involves forging tangible relationships built on trust and love. Irons and De Niro take center stage (outside of the beautiful cinematography and unforgettable Ennio Morricone score) when they’re forced to face the threat of invasion from differing perspectives — one chooses violence, the other peace, but in the face of human greed neither may be enough.

The Mission comes to Blu-ray in HD with a theatrical trailer and the following extras.

  • Commentary by director Roland Joffé
  • The Making of The Mission [57:17]
  • *NEW* On Earth as it is in Heaven: Scoring The Mission [20:55] – The great Ennio Morricone’s first watch of the film left him convinced that it didn’t need music at all, but he was eventually convinced otherwise and ultimately composed one of his finest works.
  • *NEW* Lives in the Balance: Chris Menges Remembers The Mission [9:28] – The cinematographer recalls the production’s inspirations, struggles, and successes.
  • Interview with Jeremy Irons [6:49]
  • Interview with director Roland Joffé [7:12]

Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)

War rages across Europe and the Pacific, but somewhere in the American midwest an answer is being built. It’s an answer in the form of a final option, one designed to end the war in decisive fashion, and it’s called the Manhattan Project. The U.S. government and its allies bring together military men and scientists hoping to build an atomic bomb, and this is their story.

Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Oppenheimer is probably destined to become the defining film about the creation of the atomic bomb, but Joffé got there first with this perfectly adequate historical drama. The supporting talents are undeniable with Paul Newman, John Cusack, Bonnie Bedelia, Laura Dern, John C. McGinley, Natasha Richardson, and more bringing the secretive project to life, but Dwight Schultz is maybe a bit underwhelming as J. Robert Oppenheimer. The new interview included here actually sheds some light on this.

The film is at its best when it allows its characters to banter and bounce ideas off each other regarding the bomb’s moral ramifications and such. Too much of it, though, instead gets caught up in romance and military faceoffs meant to ramp up tension. The end result is a film that feels like it chooses convention over challenge to its own detriment.

Fat Man and Little Boy comes to Blu-ray with an HD presentation by Paramount Pictures, a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer, and the following extras.

  • *NEW* Destroyer of Worlds: Dwight Schultz Remembers Fat Man and Little Boy [24:07] – The A-Team actor recalls turning down the roll (and then firing his agent when they said yes to it anyway), but he goes on to discuss the production fondly, share his appreciation and knowledge of Oppenheimer even before reading the script, and talk about the making of the atomic bomb as a Faustian bargain where America let go of its morals.
  • *NEW* Madness and Suspicion: Scoring Fat Man and Little Boy [19:30]
  • A vintage Paramount promotional featurette [5:17]
  • Vintage Paramount promotional interviews [11:11]
  • B-roll production footage [10:45]
  • Interview with John Cusack [6:14]
  • Interview with Dwight Schultz [7:03]

City of Joy (1992)

An American surgeon (Patrick Swayze) hits rock bottom after losing a young patient on the operating table, and with no future in mind he heads to Calcutta, India. He’s immediately mugged and beaten, but a good samaritan (Om Puri) facing his own struggles in the big city takes him to a British nurse (Pauline Collins) who now lives and works in India. The three strangers soon realize a shared concern and hope for the slum they call home.

The three previous films collected in Directed by Roland Joffé are all historical tales set in the past, but each features themes applicable to the present. City of Joy is the only one that unfolds in the present and features themes immediately relevant to the world today as its focus is on compassion and empathy for those less fortunate. We can learn lessons from the past, but here we’re presented with an inspiration towards better living tomorrow.

Of course, all of that said, this is still the least engaging of the four Joffé films here. The actors all do good work with Puri in particular standing out by crafting a man at the end of his rope and struggling to hold his family together. As strong as the performances are, though, it ultimately feels a bit too pat in its sincerity and story beats. Empathy is perhaps the most important human trait of all, but the moral doesn’t make up for the overlong and obvious nature of the drama.

City of Joy comes to Blu-ray with an HD presentation, a second disc with a new documentary, and the following extras.

  • *NEW* The Worm Turns: Art Malik Remembers City of Joy [18:23] – The actor, probably best known as the lead terrorist in James Cameron’s True Lies, talks about loving the book the film is based on, maneuvering his way into joining the production, how the story gives voice to Indian people, and more.
  • Going Back to City of Joy: Interview with Roland Joffé [41:55]
  • Interview with Patrick Swayze [7:06]
  • Interview with Pauline Collins [6:57]
  • Interview with Roland Joffé [8:00]
  • Interview with Om Puri [7:23]
  • India and Cinema [3:58]
  • *NEW* Prisoners of Our Own History: The First Four Films of Roland Joffé [1:25:01] – A new documentary exploring Joffé’s entry and approach to feature filmmaking by way of the themes and intentions of his first four movies.
  • *NEW* Deleted scene [3:32]

Directed by Roland Joffé is available directly from Imprint Films.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.