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Film Review: Mission: Impossible
In 1996, Brian De Palma released Mission: Impossible, based on the 1960s television series of the same name produced by Bruce Geller. Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez, Ingeborga Dapkuaite, Karel Dobry, Marcel Iures, Olegar Fedoro, and Dale Dye, the film grossed $457.7 million at the box office. The third highest-grossing film of 1996, the film was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and spawned four sequels in 2000, 2006, 2011, and 2015.
When Jim Phelps is given a new assignment dealing with sensitive agent regarding IMF agents, he brings his crew which includes point man Ethan Hunt. However, their mission is compromised and Ethan finds himself as the lone survivor, making his superiors believe that he is the mole they’ve been hunting. When he finds that he wasn’t actually the only survivor, he goes into the list of blacklisted IMF agents to put together a team to find out the truth and the person the original mission was actually targeting. What he finds is a conspiracy that Hunt could never have imagined.
A film that showed how summer blockbusters didn’t need to rely on explosions and a body count to be intense, Mission: Impossible is a good film. One good example of how it ramps up the tension in a psychological and subdued way is the now famous scene where Ethan is suspended on the cable during his heist at the CIA. There’s quite a lot of tension in the scene due to how the slightest change in atmosphere and temperature or even the smallest outside force, such as a bead of sweat, can kill the entire mission. What’s more is the film keeps cutting back to the CIA agent that the team made sick to get away from the room, with the tension being offset by some well-placed humor when he keeps going back into the restroom. The film is notably much more subdued and psychological than its successors, but that makes sense, considering this is where Hunt earned his reputation and how he came to be involved in plots that contained a lot more action.
Even though he doesn’t have the reputation he has in the films that follow, Ethan shows his prowess as an agent very well. Take his hyper awareness. There’s the scene where his IMF superior is debriefing him following the botched mission and finds out that the entire mission was a setup to reveal a mole within the team. The thing is, he and his superior are in a café and Ethan is able to recognize that every person around the two of them are a second IMF team that he continued to notice while on the mission. Him noticing all of them and then his ability to keep his superior talking until he was able to escape by blowing up the fish tank displayed early on just how much of a great IMF agent Hunt is and what he’s going to be bringing throughout the film.
Now, the villain of the film is rather interesting and really the only thing that feels off about the film, considering that Phelps is the protagonist of the original series. It seems like the film was trying to deconstruct the character: a Cold War agent who ran his own team, but found himself in a job that didn’t pay enough without any word about how to run things once it was over and to top it off, he’s married to a woman he doesn’t love. So obviously the thing to do is to throw away morals and sell out his country for money. Unfortunately, the attempted deconstruction isn’t completely believable and essentially ruins the legacy of a much-beloved character.
One thing that really hurts Phelps’ villainy is his plan, which is an overly complicated one that relied on a lot of people reacting in very specific ways. Ethan had to find Max, convince her that the disc she had was a trap, trust Claire intuitively and steal the real list from the CIA. If any of those had gone pear shaped, then all Phelps could do is disappear, sell the knowledge and hope for the best. It even gets complicated before the plan is enacted since if Phelps was followed or if Ethan was able to reach him or if Sarah wasn’t stabbed, then he wouldn’t have been able to carry it out to begin with.
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