REVIEW – ‘Mission: Impossible’

Cruise's initial 'Mission' is an imperfect but still enjoyable start to the franchise.

Review by J.T. Johnson

“Retro Reviews” has officially become “Retro Fridays!” New name, same rules. This is where I review films from the past! Instead of randomly posting the reviews, though, I wanted to designate a day for the reviews. So, for the first “Retro Fridays!” I’m taking a look at the first film in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise since “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is set to come out later this year.

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: May 22, 1996
DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Stephen H. Burum
WRITERS: David Koepp, Steven Zaillian
MUSIC: Danny Elfman

It’s hard to believe that Tom Cruise has been playing Ethan Hunt for over 20 years now. When most people think of the franchise, they imagine large action set pieces that usually involve daring stunts performed by Cruise himself. However, if you were to revisit the first film, you might find the action lacking for the first “Mission: Impossible”.

This is because the filmmakers originally had something entirely different in mind. For the first “Mission”, Cruise and famed suspense director Brian De Palma wanted to make a more straightforward spy thriller, focused more on the espionage than the action. You can tell this is the case because the story is filled with high drama and quite a few twists along the way.

In this first film, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team plan to apprehend a man that is about to sell a highly valuable list of operatives and the person he is selling the list to. Unfortunately, their mission is compromised and most of Ethan’s team is killed, including his mentor Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). After discovering that Jim’s wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) is still alive, they go rogue in an attempt to discover who set them up and why.

The story has been noted for how convoluted it can get, but I felt that once you knew that the villain’s plot was to steal the list and setup Ethan, you pretty much knew what was going on. As I said before, this is more of a suspense film than an action movie. That means that the entertainment is found within the tense setups, the most memorable one being when Ethan has to infiltrate IMF headquarters in Langley in an attempt to steal the real list of operatives.

Ethan infiltrates the room through the ceiling and is suspended in midair because nothing, not even a drop of sweat, can touch the floor without setting off alarms. He also can’t make any sound as he is doing this, making the scene even more intense to watch. These are the kind of scenes that give the film its drama.

The performances are also strong if not a little melodramatic. Cruise proves right out of the gate that Ethan Hunt was a role he was born to play and he commits to this role completely. Béart is also a standout in the film as the femme fatale of the picture. Claire seems to the be the vulnerable widow but even her loyalties are called into question and Béart’s performance also makes you question her true motives.

Now, since this franchise has become known for its action, I’ll go ahead and tell you that the action found in this film is not really all that impressive. Even the now memorable fight on the TGV train is dated as hell and not that impressive. Basically, the action got better as the series moved along.

Despite the lackluster action, I’m a sucker for spy thrillers so I do enjoy this film. Yes, it is slow and can sometimes be a little too melodramatic at times. Thankfully, De Palma knows how to craft a clever thriller with some pretty neat twists and that helps make this a successful debut for the “Mission: Impossible” film series.

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