Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Mission: Impossible" (1996)

Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight and Emmanuelle Beart
Written by David Koepp and Robert Towne
Directed by Brian de Palma
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 110 Minutes

Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) of the IMF has just been framed for the murder of his entire team. They were tasked with preventing the theft of a non-official cover or NOC list from an American embassy in Prague, but the mission went disastrously wrong. Worse, Hunt learns that as the only survivor, he's now the prime suspect in the agency's mole hunt and that the list was a fake to draw out the mole.

Hunt has no other choice but to go on the run. He soon finds another member of the team has survived: Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), wife of team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). Together, Hunt and Claire hatch a plan to draw out the real mole, this time by stealing the actual NOC list which happens to be kept in one of the world's most secure locations: CIA headquarters.

It's somehow been 19 years since this first "Mission: Impossible" film hit theaters. I know opinions on this film have been mixed, but I've always been a fan. It's a twisty, turny thriller with several first-rate suspense and action sequences that spawned a rather unique franchise. With the latest and fifth film in the series, "Rogue Nation," hitting theaters this summer, I thought I might take a look back at the previous entries.

I never found the plot of this film to be overly confusing, but there have been plenty others who seem to have trouble with it. That the film plays with perception but rarely ever spoon-feeds its audience can lead to people perhaps not quite understanding what they're seeing. Director Brian de Palma likes to visualize Ethan Hunt's thought process, which sometimes means seeing a couple different versions of familiar shots as Hunt works things out — we see a particular car bomb go off multiple times, from multiple angles as Hunt tries to discern what actually happened the night his team is killed.

But that's part of what makes "Mission: Impossible" so appealing as a film and as a franchise. Looking back over four films and nearly two decades, one can see how each film in the series follows the unique style of its directors. In the case of this first film, it's very much Brian de Palma putting his mark on the summer blockbuster. That means lots of camera angles you might not usually see in a movie like this, and a dizzying and even off-putting editing style.

But de Palma still gets in a couple of crackling action sequences that one does expect, including the film's centerpiece CIA heist sequence that became one of the most talked-about of the year. Hunt and his new team of disavowed agents, including hacker Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and muscle Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), break into a CIA vault at Langley that has very specific security measures, forcing Hunt to hang suspended from the ceiling, not making any noise or touching the floor. The entire scene is practically silent, and totally thrilling.

The film's climax is where the film, if you'll forgive the pun, goes totally off the rails. It's the most standard Hollywood action in the entire film, and while it's a great sequence in and of itself, it also doesn't feel quite like it fits with the rest of the movie. On the other hand, it seems eerily indicative of where the franchise would go afterward.

The first "Mission: Impossible" is the most grounded of the films, as is often the case with franchises. Future entries would feature Cruise taking on more and more ridiculous adventures, but strangely, the third and fourth films would actually get better, and each with a unique directorial style.

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