As a huge fan of the television series of the same name and its sequel series in the late 1980s, I was beyond thrilled when the 1996 film version of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE came out. Here was a rousing take on beloved genre, complete with a sweet-ass update of the theme music by two out of the four members of my favourite band.
And looking at MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE today, the same buzz sets in. Brian De Palma, of all people, is the director. It’s easy to see why his vision would’ve thrown people and it certainly turns the whole universe on its head. Beloved characters are flipped upside down and the so-called team concept is all but brutalized.
Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, member of IMF – the Impossible Missions Force. Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) is the head of IMF and he’s trying to stop the leak of a list that contains all the names of all the agents in the CIA. Unfortunately, the mission to stop the theft of this list goes ass-up and the team is mostly obliterated. Only Hunt seemingly survives.
Hunt is thrown into a tizzy by the murders of his co-workers and friends and he’s on his own in Prague. He reaches out to the IMF Director (Henry Czerny), but the boss suspects him off offing his team himself. Hunt is on the run, but he soon elects to turn the tables by stealing the list for himself and delivering it to the mysterious contact.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE all but strips away the concept of a team going in and a team getting out. While the television series’ utilized a group of people with various expertise to get the job done, De Palma questions what would happen if that idea blew the hell up – literally.
Now, Cruise’s character isn’t on his own all that much. There are characters that resurface and things are, as you’d expect, not as they seem. He doesn’t know who he can trust and De Palma’s off-kilter direction solidifies this. There are Dutch angles, bizarre close-ups, groggy shots. When Hunt meets the IMF head in a bar, we see the conversation as though we’re hanging out under the table.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE has its famous action set pieces, but it’s not of the gratuitous variety. Cruise, who did most of his own stunts, flings himself around like a ragdoll at certain moments and dangles from an absurd set of circumstances in others. It’s all part of the cinematic magic, the playing of anxiety and beads of sweat against the sprinting irrevocability of the CIA.
De Palma’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE clearly kicks off quite a franchise and the action sequences only get more impressive and more daring as the series rolls on. But it pays to recognize how well Cruise does to exemplify the sense of maddening tension, the way Jean Reno’s character holds the rope that holds it all together, the way the rat eats it in the end and lays there like a martyr.
In the end, only Cruise and Ving Rhames would go on to other impossible missions and De Palma would roll the dice with Nicolas Cage. And while nobody would claim MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is a delicate starting point for a thrilling series, it is comprised of small, tight thrills and makes for one hell of a snaking yarn.