You are currently viewing At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Mission: Impossible “96”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Mission: Impossible “96”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Ving Rhames, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Vanessa Redgrave, Kristen Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Marcel Lures, Dale Dye/ Runtime: 110 minutes

In the early 90’s, the world of film started to see a trend begin developing in Hollywood that took the form of all the major studios finding every old TV series they either had in their archives or that they could grab the rights to and began giving them movie adaptations. The reason for doing so was not only so the studios could hopefully cash in on the nostalgia factor, but also to introduce a whole new generation to some timeless products. It should come as no surprise therefore to learn that near the very top of the list of properties was the TV series from the 60’s known as Mission: Impossible and yet it is not hard to see why. This is because during the time of its initial airing, Mission: Impossible had proven to be quite the hit for parent network CBS as it was able to run for seven seasons and even managed to bring such now-iconic actors Peter Graves and Martin Landau into the limelight as well as become a part of pop culture.

Yet even with such success, it was still odd for many to see the show being touted for a possible motion picture adaptation. This is because the TV series Mission: Impossible was in the same vein as a lot of modern cop procedurals nowadays are in that each episode was very plot-centric. Yes the show had the same cast of characters in episode upon episode, but the vast majority of them were not really given much in the way of hugely significant character development. Thus it would appear upon first glance that this was a show whose primary interest was in telling audiences of the daring adventures of a squad of elite U.S. government agents who utilize misdirection, theatricality, and make-up to baffle their targets and complete the mission might not make for a riveting big screen adaptation. Then in 1996, Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise decided to team up with noted director Brian de Palma in order to bring the adaptation to life, and with Tom wanting to be in the lead role, it really did seem to confirm to fans of the show that the beloved format would not be held up. Yet despite some critical jabs being hurled its way at the time of release, time has been kind to this film, no doubt thanks to how well its successors have turned out and today the original Mission: Impossible movie truly does still prove to be one of the better television to motion picture adaptations to grace the screen to date and, much to the happiness of fans of the show, still manages to be just as much about the caper as the series was even if the leads do get more depth than the show had been willing to provide.

The plot is as follows: Our story begins in the picturesque community of Prague, where a task force of the IMF comprised of veteran agent and team leader Jim Phelps, point man Ethan Hunt, tech guy Jack Harmon, agents Sarah Davies and Hannah Williams, and Jim’s wife Claire have all been convened for a mission. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to prevent at all costs a traitor from selling off a document that lists all of the alternate identities of undercover agents currently working throughout Europe. It isn’t that long into the mission however that things start catastrophically wrong and, before too long, everyone but Hunt has been taken out by an unknown yet quite deadly assassin. Seeking a way out of his nightmare, Hunt dutifully notifies IMF head Kittredge only to discover during his initial debriefing that the entire operation was nothing more than a quest to find and snare an alleged insider within the IMF, and since Hunt is the only one still alive, he is quickly branded as this insidious insider. However, Hunt isn’t willing to be taken in so easily and, upon escaping, becomes driven to prove he is not who the agency is looking for by any means necessary. To that end, Hunt chooses to make contact with a notorious arms dealer known only as Max that had been conducting business with the genuine insider and with whom he makes a business transaction of his own in the form of getting the intel Max desires if Max agrees to deliver the real insider to him. His objective now clear, Hunt recruits Claire, who he discovers is still alive, as well as former IMF agents Luther Stickell and Franz Krieger to help with the plot. Yet as the group proceeds to plan out the operation, things quickly become complex and it also quickly becomes apparent that not everything with this operation may truly be as it seems…..

Now when this film was initially first released to the masses in theaters back in 1996, Mission: Impossible was disparaged against by reviewers for being so complicated that it was almost all but impossible to figure out just what exactly is going on. To be fair this film is quite the puzzle to figure out, but it most certainly is not this impossible feat that everyone at that time seemed to think it was. Indeed there is nothing wrong with a movie conjuring up a complex narrative for its audience to try and figure out along with the characters plus, in this film’s case, it can actually be quite the positive. Indeed this is a film which doesn’t operate in the way a film in this genre typically would whilst still managing to check every box that someone familiar with the TV show would come to expect from a film adaptation. Thus it manages to completely flip and follow the typical narrative formula at the same time. However, I feel you should know that if there was ever an area where the film falters from a narrative perspective, it would have to be mainly in the area that deals with a main twist in the narrative. It’s not the fact that there’s a twist at all; we as an audience have, of course, come to expect that from this genre of film. Rather, it is the fact that the moment the seeds for this particular twist are planted in the film up until the twist finally reveals itself there is honestly nothing revelatory about it. Indeed even though the final act of the movie does still attempt to suggest that all is not as it appears, the fact still remains that because a key ingredient of the narrative in what is supposed to be a twisty thriller is so easy to figure out is nothing short of a letdown to say the least.

Now I feel you should also know that, in regards to pure action beats, this is a film that is not exactly an action film in the way that its sequels have turned out to be. Indeed to be fair there is one key significant action moment, but that is quite late in the film. Until then however, this is a film which instead chooses to be more about intrigue, double-crosses, and misdirection of the finest caliber with the crown jewel of these moments being the execution of the operation which entails acquiring intel from a computer that is located in a security-tight room. A feat that doesn’t sound so tough….until I also add that this room is equipped with a pressure sensitive floor, extremely efficient temperature control, and also audio sensors that are locked on and ready to nab anyone who isn’t supposed to be in there. (Gulp) Indeed this is a truly fantastic sequence, not only due to how well the cast manages to do it without the use of a lot of dialogue, but also in how the crew behind the scenes manages to incorporate virtually no musical accompaniment to the proceedings. Thus you find yourself literally placed in the same situation as the characters are and the film manages to be quite effective in building the tension and suspense to the point that you are literally left silent and holding your breath, hoping against hope that the characters are successful in achieving their objective.

Now in terms of the cast I think it’s safe to say that this movie manages to give us a truly fantastic group of players to work their way around this particular world. This of course starts with Tom Cruise in the lead role of Ethan Hunt. Indeed Cruise is one of those actors who, jumping on couches aside, has always been one of the world of filmmaking’s most charming, and most committed professionals for a long time now. Suffice it to say that his first go-around as Ethan Hunt is most assuredly proof of this. Indeed not only is he witty when he needs to be, but he’s charismatic, charming, appropriately driven when he needs to be, but most importantly he is actually likable. Not only that, but Cruise’s 110% work ethic also makes his moments of action in the film be it dangling from a wire to being on top of a moving bullet train that much more believable and thrilling for the audience. Indeed it should go without saying, but I definitely feel that the reason this film, and subsequent franchise, has been so successful to begin with is because of Cruise in the lead role.

Aiding Cruise in the mission of making this film entertaining though is one heck of a supporting cast. This starts with film veteran Jon Voight who is one heck of a presence on screen in this as Jim Phelps. Indeed Voight, no matter how bad a film may be (looking at you Anaconda), always has managed to contribute a touch of style and some generally wonderful acting to any movie that he gets to be part of, and trust me when I say that this film is no different even if the fans of the TV show might have an issue with his portrayal of the character played so memorably by Peter Graves. We also get stylish support from the lovely French actress Emmanuelle Béart who really does a wonderful job of showcasing the stereotypical wildcard female character who you are never really sure just what her agenda is but who is entertaining all the same. Also doing good work in the equal parts slimy and smarmy role of Hunt’s superior Kittredge is Henry Czerny. Indeed to say this guy is one antagonistic force you will love to hate is an understatement; I mean just the back-and-forth between him and Cruise in the now-iconic restaurant scene is truly well-played and I really don’t understand how this guy didn’t have a bigger career, but I am excited to see him coming back for the next one after all this time. We also get wonderful work from future franchise regular Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, and acclaimed actress Vanessa Redgrave who brings a touch of class of her own to the role of Max the arms dealer. Now don’t get me wrong: I love Jean Reno and I think he has done some truly fantastic work, including roles in The Professional and Ronin which are 2 films I treasure with a passion. Yet I honestly felt that he might not have been the best possible choice for the role of Krieger. Indeed he does do good work don’t get me wrong, but I could have seen someone more like Rutger Hauer in that role. Yet that is only a minor quibble in the grand scheme of just how well this film’s cast manages to take this spy caper and make it work as well as it ultimately does.

All in all Brian De Palma along with winning performances from Tom Cruise and a terrific supporting cast really manage to conjure up for our viewing pleasure a highly energetic and taut spy thriller to start this now iconic film franchise with. Indeed this is also a film that manages to work out wonderfully for the kind of film that it is. Thus, unless you don’t happen to enjoy spy thrillers, action movies, or you just happen to be one of those audience members out there with ridiculously way too high hopes and/or standards I have no doubt that you will enjoy this film. Indeed this may be to some a kind of guilty pleasure film, but when it’s this much fun I think it is safe to say that this one mission you should definitely choose to accept. On a scale of 1-5 I give Mission: Impossible “96” a solid 3.5 out of 5.