reviewed by Tom-Tom
The Mission Impossible film series is unique in that each film has been shaped by a different director. Brian De Palma is the first director to tackle the franchise. He brings with him his considerable talents for stylized silence, action and dramatic cinematography in a cool spy film which is complex, shocking, and suspenseful.
The film opens in Kiev with Emilio Estevez watching a lurid scene through via his computer. Two Russian men are conversing in their native tongue concerning a woman lying dead in a bed covered with blood. The older, well dressed man is attempting to needle out a name from the distressed younger one. He gets it, feeds him drugged vodka which knocks him out almost immediately. The walls are slid back and agents from the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) come forth to revive the “dead” woman, incarcerate the unconscious unlikely informant, and clean up the scene. The older Russian is revealed to be Tom Cruise playing Agent Ethan Hunt after removing his high end rubber mask.
The scene changes to a First Class section on an International Flight where it is still possible to smoke. Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) receives an offer for in-flight entertainment which reveals an IMF mission debriefing in trademark stylized language with the famous ending lines, “As always, if you or any of your team is caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge…” and “This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” Like many kids who grew up in the 80’s, my first experience with self-destructing messages was Inspector Gadget not Mission:Impossible so it was a bit of a laugh to see it on the big screen.
The mission this time is to retrieve a list of IMF agent names from a traitor at an Embassy in Prague. Almost everything that can go wrong goes wrong despite the professional execution of each agent’s roles. The previously mentioned throwaway disclaimer heard in the secret debriefing earlier suddenly develops gravity and reality. Ethan as played by Cruise handles the unbelievable situation with an emotional performance. He was here in 1996 as well as 2015, a very compelling everyman character the viewers can get behind. The failed mission is an ambitious beginning to the film which recoils and is utterly changed by its events sending Hunt and another survivor on a crusade to find out what happened and to make him/her/them pay.
This disavowed life leads Ethan to recruit other former IMF agents. Luther Stickwell, played by the excellent, iconic Ving Rhames fresh off his successful performance in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, gives another memorable contribution to film history. Listening to him describe with joy the possible computers he’ll get to use in the operation is particularly endearing to watch. French action star Jean Reno, who impressed Western audiences as Leon in Leon: The Professional a couple years earlier plays Franz Krieger, a smuggler, knifeman, helicopter pilot, and strongman. There’s so much star power here, that only a champ like De Palma could have handled it.There are two great sequences remaining in this film. One involves a break-in and heist into a place in an ambitious set piece which is a master class in suspense and tension. The other is a rather exciting chase atop the fastest train in the world. Both are excellent and exciting. Unfortunately they are sandwiched between a rather boring set of sequences in which much info is revealed a bit confusingly. The music score is excellent making use of Lalo Schiffrin’s exciting Mission Impossible theme from the original television series and Danny Elfman’s similar use of percussive and cacophonous rhythm in lieu of melody is nicely effective. He adopts his triumphant brass and lyrical strings appropriately as well in De Palma’s mostly excellent reimagining of an American landmark.