1968, 1982, 1996, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2006, action, adaptation, Brian De Palma, Bruce Geller, camp, David Koepp, Emmanuelle Beart, film noir, First Blood, Henry Czerny, humour, Jean Reno, John Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible III, Robert Towne, spies, spy, Stanley Kubrick, stylish, thriller, Tom Cruise, Vanessa Redgrave, Ving Rhames, Western
Written by: David Koepp and Robert Towne, based on the original television series created by Bruce Geller
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Starring: Tom Cruise, John Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave
I came to Mission: Impossible in the same way I first came to First Blood (1982), when it hit theatres I watched Mission: Impossible III (2006) armed only with whatever the franchise had become in the popular eye. I had images of a deadly-serious thriller about highly-trained spies, I was unaware that the playful tone and camp elements of the third installment were in-line with the first two and I remember having feelings of betrayal, as though I was offended on behalf of a film franchise I had never seen. Having finally watched Mission: Impossible I recognize that the action is intentionally stylistic and inflated, and perhaps I need to reconsider the sequels.
Though I have never seen the original television series upon which this film is based, I get the distinct feeling that director Brian De Palma is attempting to capture the tone of that show. The film’s plot seems intentionally distilled, as though the filmmakers wanted the most basic possible plot in order to have maximum space for action. I don’t want that to come across as a criticism, because it works in the favour of he film. The motives of the characters are relatively weak; Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his highly trained team of IMF agents, lead by Jim Phelps (John Voight) are attempting to plant a tracker on a man in contact with “Max”, a mysterious arms dealer. Something goes wrong and Hunt barely survives. He immediately calls Eugene Kitterage (Henry Czerny), the director of the IMF, and the two meet for a debriefing at a small but remarkably stylish cafe. Hunt recognizes most of the patrons and staff at the cafe as people strategically placed elsewhere throughout the night, realizes he’s being fingered as a mole, and makes his escape. The rest of the film involves Hunt compiling a team of ex-IMF agents to infiltrate IMF headquarters and steal information to be handed off to “Max.”
Most of that is unimportant. In fact, I think all of it is. What’s important here is the action, and the action is superb. The suspense is drawn absurdly taut, and the film features a thread of humour that makes the absurdity palatable. The iconic scene where Hunt is suspended from the ceiling in a harness plays out a little differently than I had expected, with less acrobatics and more room for human error. De Palma’s decision to leave the soundtrack silent, and to incorporate complex lighting into the scene put to mind the long, lonely stretches of Stanley Kubrick’s great 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but perhaps only superficially. The fight on top of the TGV and into the Chunnel is a cheeky take on the classic Western scene where the hero fights the villain on top of a moving train.
DePalma loves constructing a noir atmosphere where possible, and in Mission: Impossible it works. There are sharp suits, and hats drawn low, women in elegant dresses, people standing in doorways and deep, angled shadows. This film is stylish, and fun and it has the attention span of a goldfish. The style of the movie is built on the modes of Old Hollywood but the lives of the characters barely seem informed by the last two days. It’s a fun film full of wonderful performances, and I will be sure to check out the next two in light of understanding what is really going on.