Join the IMF and See the World. On a Screen. From a Closet.
Tom Cruise is nuts. Let's come right out and say it. He is flat-out bat-shit. In the first ten minutes of Mission:Impossible-Rogue Nation, he does this stunt where he is hanging on the side door of a very large Airbus turbo-prop as it ramps up and takes off from a runway in Belarus. We watch as the plane taxi's down the runway and then takes off the scenery behind receding in the background. You can do wonders with computer graphics these days, but the pristene nature of those effects immediately tells your brain "not happening." This, though, is real, because it is rough and less than the ideal that producers* and directors insist on. Of course, Cruise is harnessed, attached to something with a parachute under his clothes, and the restraints have been CGI'd out, but DAMN! that's really 53 year old Cruise at cruising altitude, photographed by IMAX cameras to reassure you that, yes, that is really him on the edge of the plane. Like the previous film, where he did a short scaling of the tallest building in the world, the sequence is breath-taking, over-the-top, and just plain stupid. The only thing more stupid is the insurance company that underwrote the project, and let the star of the movie do something that ludicrous for real.
I hope they filmed it last, at least.**
M:I-5 (which is what this one is numerically, making it match the name of an actual intelligence agency) sees most of the known M:I operatives—Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) endeavoring to keep a "package" from leaving Belarus via said Airbus. It is your typical Impossible Missions Force strategem (a formula made famous in Bruce Geller's TV-series), with much malice aforethought, gadgetry galore and split-second subterfuge. It's brilliant...until it goes wrong, and it inevitably does. Then the team, so close to the goal, has to punt, improvise, and suck up the bromide mentioned a couple times in the film—"desperate times, desperate measures." Like clinging to a soaring airplane, while your tech-guy is waiting to be in satellite range, so he can auto-remote the Airbus with instructions written in Russian. It's no wonder a Senate sub-committee meeting in secret opines that "the success rate your unorganized methods garner look suspiciously like chance," and one has to agree.
|"Your organization is incompetent, but I want all of you working
for me in the CIA," says
M:I-5 has a lot in common with Skyfall—a government committee is looking into defunding the head-less organization (the latest leader played by Tom Wilkinson, was killed in Ghost Protocol) and folding its assets into the CIA (headed by Alec Baldwin, who spends most of the movie at least a few steps behind IMF's Ethan Hunt, trying to capture him and disprove that a criminal spy organization called "The Syndicate"*** exists). That "Syndicate" is described as an "anti-IMF" (presumably because everything they do succeeds without a hitch) made up of presumed killed or "disavowed" agents who are working for a spy-mastermind (Sean Harris), who begins this movie by infiltrating one of the IMF's message-centers and hijacking one of the org's notoriously self-destructing mission-statements. As a result, Hunt is captured (is this guy working for the CIA?), and readied for torture to reveal...what, exactly? Hunt isn't even sure "The Syndicate" exists until they expose themselves by kidnapping him. What can he tell them? How he did the plane stunt?
|"I'm not telling..." says Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise)
Hunt goes missing for awhile after escaping, while both "The Syndicate" and the CIA are trying to find him, and he's trying to find the rat-faced head of "The Syndicate." He recruits Benji for help in Vienna where it is suspected that the Chancellor of Austria will be assassinated at the Vienna Opera House during a performance of "Turandot." It's at this point that the movie begins to really take off as writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (he wrote The Usual Suspects and Cruise's Valkyrie, and wrote and directed Jack Reacher) begins to borrow chock-a-block from other movies. The "Turandot" sequence is straight out of The Man Who Knew Too Much with a couple added twists—there are three assassins prowling the opera house, and Hunt (with Benji monitoring from an electrical room) has to figure who's who...are they going to assassinate the Chancellor, or are they going to assassinate the assassins? In which case...who do you shoot? Talk about triangulation. The drama plays out while Puccini plays below on-stage all the while waiting for that one note where the bullets will fire. Even the gun-men are following the sheet-music waiting for the note circled in red (there's a direct correlative shot to the one Hitchcock devised in The Man Who Knew Too Much gliding over the notes to that one section.
The entire film is not wholly original (is anything, anymore?), but like any assassination film, it's all in the execution, something that McQuarrie does very well. It helps that he has a star who's nutso and so gung-ho that he doesn't have to do a lot of sloppy editing to make a cohesive action sequence. Just pump him up and let him go, and he's like an excited puppy with a chew-toy. And Ferguson if a fine, subtle actress capable of not-so-subtle fight moves who is fun to watch throughout.
So, there's that plane sequence, and the Opera stage-piece (which has a lovely moment when Hunt is nearly run over by a piece of scenery containing one of the marksmen he's looking for, a credit to McQuarrie that he's set the geography enough that you can appreciate it), and a brilliant extended sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath in a submerged tank for 3½ minutes (that is, if everything goes *cough* right) to replace a key programming card to a security system that won't detect Benji as an imposter as he walks into a secure vault—it isn't enough that Hunt could simply drown. He also has to avoid large spinning something-or-others that are supposed to keep either the water or suspense churning.
This is followed by a car-chase with driver Hunt a little the worse for wear for his underwater stunt, the mayhem caused by his inability to drive, rather than by any skill, and after he and Benji end up skidding along via the roof of the car, it is followed by a motorcycle chase...because it seems to be in Cruise's contract that he has to ride a motorcycle in every single one of his movies. These are inter-cut with little reaction shots, the stunned silence of someone on the other side of the communication device rendered speechless, and occasional set-up shots for pay-offs later in the movie. All engineered to appear un-engineered.
|Because Tom has to ride one in every...single...movie.
Then, there's a neat little confrontation sequence that feels out of place: the final confrontation in a London outdoor cafe between Hunt, Ilsa, and the bad guy who remains unseen, but who speaks via headphone through Benji, who is wired with explosives. Supposedly this sequence wasn't scripted at the time shooting began; nobody knew how (exactly) the movie was going to end. Oh, they knew how it was going to end-end—with a pair of nicely book-ended call-backs of earlier sequences—but that confrontation sequence has a nicely unpolished feel to it for all involved; where most of the movie feels like it is on well-oiled rails, this sequence feels rough and could go anywhere and wrongly with the next cut. It's surprisingly effective at keeping an audience's complacent doldrums away.Really, this latest Mission: Impossible is a well-done little actioner, not wholly original, but entirely professional—an entertainment machine that runs on all gears, even slipping a few of them, just for the sheer loopy enjoyment of it, brightened by the full wattage smile (that has only slightly dimmed with a shade of world-weariness) of its Peter Pan-ish star, who seems to have no fear...and no shame. Bravo.
But Tom...Tom, there must be EASIER ways to leave The Church?
Maybe the next one should be called "Mission: Impossible—Death Wish."
* Have you noticed lately that producers are tagging onto their names "p.g.a." (for the Producer's Guild of America). Is this another ego-grab for the most ego-driven profession in movie-making (like a doctor of Philosophy insisting on having P.h.D. behind his name?) or is this a requirement. I've only seen it showing up this Summer, even though the PGoA has been around since 1962. Still think it's odd that an organization that used to fight Unions...has a Union.
** They didn't. According to the New York Times video above, director Christopher McQuarrie insists this was the last shot:
*** "The Syndicate" is a throwback to Bond's "S.P.E.C.T.R.E." or UNCLE's "T.H.R.U.S.H" or "Get Smart's" K.A.O.S., and was a part of the original "Mission: Impossible" TV series when the IMF wasn't going after dictators, generalissimo's, and villains who resembled Martin Landau or Leonard Nimoy.