Mission: Accepted – Mission: Impossible

Posted: July 7, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

In terms of modern movie franchises, the Mission: Impossible series has always been one that has both entertained me overall and interested me (for one reason in particular, which I’ll reveal at a later time).  And since it’s the middle of summer, a time of year where it’s all about fast-paced thrills when it comes to movies, I thought it’d be fun to embark on a short review series (separate from my Barrage of the Blockbusters) called “Mission: Accepted”, wherein I go back and take a look at all four entries into the Mission: Impossible franchise thus far, and see how they stack up.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow along with me each Monday this month.

Let us begin with the first film.

Release Date: May 22nd, 1996

Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Written by: David Koepp and Robert Towne

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Beart

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Good day, fellow reader. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch Mission: Impossible, if you haven’t already. The 1996 franchise-starting thriller, adapted from the television series of the same name and directed by Brian De Palma, is a refreshingly old-school experience in the genre, a film relying more on “classic” ways of building and sustaining suspense, as opposed to the more modern tactic of blowing up everything in sight. De Palma is clearly more concerned with atmosphere, story and suspense, and that’s not something you often see in big studio blockbusters anymore. Oh, and by the way, this review will not self-destruct in five seconds.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is an IMF — Impossible Mission Force — operative and part of a team headed over by veteran agent Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). The team’s latest assignment finds them in Prague, where their mission is to get video evidence of the theft of the CIA NOC List at the American Embassy, and then intercept the list before it can be handed off to a buyer. But the mission soon turns into a catastrophe, as Ethan’s team is picked off one by one, leaving him the prime suspect in said massacre as far as IMF director Eugene Kittredge (Henry Czerny) is concerned. Almost immediately, Ethan finds himself out in the cold along with Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), Phelps’ wife and the surprise other survivor of the failed mission. Ethan and Claire determine that the best way to clear Ethan’s name is to retrieve the NOC List and capture the real person behind the death of his team. The only problem is that involves breaking into CIA Headquarters, prompting Ethan to recruit disavowed IMF operatives Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) to assist in this increasingly impossible mission (I know, bad pun).

Mission: Impossible does a number of things right, the biggest one being its tone. As I’ve already mentioned, this movie has all the trappings of a successful summer blockbuster, and yet, it doesn’t really behave like a blockbuster we’re used to seeing each and every summer. Instead, it plays the game much more coolly, calmly and efficiently. In fact, while watching this movie again, it occurred to me just how much Mission: Impossible resembles not only an old-school thriller, but a Hitchcock film as well. And seeing as how Alfred Hitchcock is one of my five favorite film directors, I found myself more caught up in Mission: Impossible this time than I have been in any of my previous viewings.

Essentially, this film is built around three big set pieces, all of them spectacular in their own right: the opening Prague infiltration, the riveting break-in to the CIA and a climax set both in and on a speeding train. All of these sequences are pretty masterfully-done, mainly due to the way Brian De Palma brings them to life. When considering the way in which he films these sequences (as well as the rest of the film), it’s not difficult to see he’s drawing inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock on more than one occasion. Now, as a sidenote, I happen to not be aware of the rest of De Palma’s body of work and I’m also aware he was making movies as far back as the late 60’s, so it’s entirely possible this is just some of his own style on display as well. But, for me, the Hitchcock comparisons are just too obvious to ignore, but not so much that it feels like I have to accuse De Palma of lazily copying. On the contrary, the way he makes Mission: Impossible feel like a thriller of the 60’s and 70’s, from the way it’s shot to the way it’s paced, is really quite effective, and actually serves to help make the movie that much better.

One technique that De Palma uses that stands out as particularly good, and particularly “Hitchcockian”, is how he finds many opportunities to do suspenseful scenes with little next to no dialogue. Specifically, the break-in to CIA Headquarters stands out here. This is a ten to fifteen-minute sequence, and it has a handful of dialogue throughout it. Yet it’s a really solid and memorable sequence due to the tight editing and the way De Palma constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat during it, almost as afraid to make a wrong move or breathe the wrong way as Ethan himself is, and we’re not even in the scene! The writing by David Koepp and Robert Towne contributes to the sense of tension just as much because all of the major set pieces are staged in a way that’s not too overblown, but at the same time, not too lacking, either. And the story itself, while not anything new, still holds our attention, even if a few of the details seem fuzzy.

All this praise of style for Mission: Impossible may lead you to believe that nothing else about it is good, but no, the performances are just as attention-holding as the style. A character like Ethan Hunt may not require a whole lot of emotional depth, but there are moments where Tom Cruise is allowed to bring tinges of that to the character, which he pulls off well. The rest of the time, he’s a perfectly charming and root-worthy hero. Jon Voight also manages to do the most with the character of Jim Phelps (who happens to be the main character from the original Television show) with the screentime he has, and supporting actors Emmanuelle Beart, Ving Rhames and Jean Reno prove to be memorable presences, too. Vanessa Redgrave also pops up as a mysterious arms dealer and uses every opportunity to relish in the sliminess of her role.

Usually, the phrase “style over substance” has negative connotations, but in the case of Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible, it actually winds up working. You’ll most likely not find the story sticking out so much when you reflect back on the film, but you will remember how effectively it takes you on a pretty thrilling ride.

***1/2 /****

Comments
  1. themovievampire says:

    It’s actually pretty well known that Brian De Palma worships at the alter of Hitchcock. Some of his earlier films like Sisters and Obsession are full on unapologetic Hitchcock homages not unlike what J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was to Spielberg. So it’s safe to say that those Hitchcockian elements you noticed are definitely not a coincidence. With M:I he was able to modernize this influence in some really slick ways, and also manages to maintain a very serious but not oppressive tone, which is why it’s probably my favorite of the series.

    • moviebuff801 says:

      At the end of this series, I’ll rank all four movies, but it might just be a tighter race than I thought between this one and my current favorite.

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