Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Mission: Impossible (1996) ***½

PG-13, 110 min.
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian, Bruce Geller (television series)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Vanessa Redgrave, Dale Dye

I think it’s easy to dismiss the first “Mission: Impossible” movie as just another Hollywood blockbuster remake that exists to thrill and excite and maybe even bolster the career of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but I feel it is an extremely well conceived spearhead by its star Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner to reinvent a franchise into an on going genre machine.

Take their choice of a director for their first outing. Brian De Palma is a controversial director who came up during the seventies and specializes in plot twists. He’s a very stylized director who has the ability to hide his stylization within the genre in which he’s working. Here’ he handles the spy genre in much the same way the original “Mission: Impossible” television series did. He wisely uses many of the conventions of the TV series and then throws them all out the window by wiping out the entire IMF team on their first mission. Then throughout the rest of the movie he invents new traditions for the film series that will become recurring themes throughout its sequels.

Cruise’s own Ethan Hunt isn’t your typical action hero. There is almost no effort made to endear this character to the audience before the filmmakers ask us to jump on his side when he’s framed as a traitor. For all we know, he is. Except that Tom Cruise is playing him.

The screenwriters’ approach to this hero is purely logical. He must figure out this puzzle he’s in. Personal life doesn’t enter into it. He’s a spy. It shouldn’t, but audiences aren’t really used to getting purely functional heroes. We do so like extraneous emotions. But, it all works. Without the unnecessary details, the movie becomes all about the mission, and isn’t this what a movie called “Mission: Impossible” should be about.

Stay with me for a week or two and we’ll look at the evolution of the series, up to its most recent entry “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”.

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