Sunday 26 May 2013

Mission Impossible

When You Mission ‘pon A Star

Mission Impossible
1996 USA
Directed by Brian De Palma
DVD Region 2

Warning: This review will self destruct in an 
explosion of spoilers in 5 paragraphs.

I’d never seen any of the modern Mission Impossible films up until very recently, but my father had been going on at me to watch them for years, as he’s a fan of the series. I perhaps sealed my own fate in regards to this particular franchise because I bought him the four films on DVD last year and since he watched them again, the pressure was on me again to follow suit. Well the other night he finally talked me into watching the first one with him... I had certain expectations as to what I was going to be watching but, I can honestly say, this was not the film I thought it would be.

Now I know I used to watch the old TV show with people like Peter Graves, Martin Landau and Leonard Nimoy appearing in it on the old black and white TV set when I was five or six years old... or at any rate, it used to be on in the background. The only things I can remember about it, to be honest, were Lalo Schifrin’s blisteringly famous theme tune and the “this tape will self destruct in x number of seconds” thing at the start of each episode. I wasn’t exactly expecting the movie version to be a good representation of what the TV show was about (although it certainly turned out to be something closer to the style than what I was expecting).

Now I really like Brian De Palma as a director but, I do find his post 70s work a bit hit and miss, to be honest with you. I love his early “Hitchcock” parodies and occasionally he does something in the style of his early work which reminds me of the DePalma I used to love at the time. Some of my favourites being Sisters, Dressed To Kill, Body Double, Raising Kane and Femme Fatale (am seriously looking forward to his new film Passion if it ever gets any kind of release over here in the UK). Even so, though, I wasn’t expecting this movie to be in any way reflective of his earlier work but, in certain sequences in the movie, I was dead wrong about that. I was expecting, from all I’d seen and heard about the film which, admittedly, wasn’t much... a big, modern action movie with long drawn out chase sequences, explosions and more bullets than brains. When, in actual fact, it’s not a bad attempt at being a slow burn thriller with the occasional action sequence used to merely punctuate certain areas of the story.

I wasn’t disappointed by the film but, neither was I as impressed with it as I’d expected to be (I think my dad had really raised my expectations of it to unfair levels of excellence, I have to say). It does, as I say, work well as at thriller and there were some sequences which did remind me of those early DePalma days, especially since you have Danny Elfman on the score and, when he’s not belting out adaptations of Lalo Schifrin’s original theme, some of the scenes did actually remind me of what Bernard Herrmann would have done had Hitchcock been directing this movie... which, of course, does ring true to my perception of the subtle genius of Brian DePalma (I’ve often heard Elfman’s scores compared to the works of Herrmann but I’d never really seen the connection myself, until watching this film).

The positive things about the film for me were the fact that it had a good cast, it wasn't just another episode of “the Tom Cruise show” (although I almost wouldn’t have minded that because I think he’s got enough charisma to keep a piece together) and more of an ensemble job. Jean Reno was especially good but, alas, was underused and not put in a position whereas he could return in a sequel (if you know what I mean). The set pieces such as the hanging down above the computer at Langley and the “helicopter hitched to a high speed train under a tunnel gag” sequence were all okay but certainly didn’t match my idea of what they could have been. The emphasis on this film is definitely one of suspense and good storytelling over action... which is where I come to the negative parts of the movie.

I didn’t know anything about this film but right when Emilio Estevez gets killed off I knew they’d pretty much kill off the whole team during that sequence (or at least appear to). Secondly, when the character played by John Voight (and Peter Graves in the old TV show) is seen being shot, I pretty much knew he was doing it himself and had caused the destruction of the team right there an then which was, I dunno, maybe ten to fifteen minutes into the movie? I knew he’d be turning up again and when his wife escaped unharmed, played by the always delightful but painfully underused Emmanuelle Beart, I figured out she’d be in on it too. So basically, within the first 15 minutes I had the story twists completely figured out and the rest of the film was just waiting for the penny to drop with Tom Cruise and biding my time spotting little known actors like Tony Vogel (who played the 1970s TV version of Dick Barton: Special Agent before lapsing into obscurity again with roles like a few seconds playing German U-Boat Commander in Raiders Of The Lost Ark) turning up as a member of MI5, in a role which must have been less than a minute of screen time, mostly with his head turned away from the camera.

I was a little disappointed at the start of the movie when I thought that Brian DePalma’s shot design and editing were going to be as pedestrian as the original TV show might have been. The first ten minutes or so seemed to be zoom, cut to shot, cut to another shot, cut back to a close up etc. Very uninspired and boring. However, after a little while he did pick up speed again and get back into the kind of sweeping and beautiful mise en scene I would normally peg him for. This included a beautiful shot of Tom Cruise running away from a giant, exploding fish tank which, due to the way his arms and legs fall within the shot,  instantly reminded me of one of the original posters for Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest... I promise I wasn’t deliberately looking for DePalma/Hitchcock moments to highlight here though. Honest, guv!

All in all, I’d say the first Mission Impossible film was a lot better than I was expecting, although really obvious on the story level. Not the action fest I was kind of half dreading, half hoping for, by any means, and certainly not something I would tell people to avoid... although I wouldn’t particularly go out of my way to recommend it either, in all fairness. Looking forward, though, to seeing how the series progressed after this initial movie. The second one is, I understand, directed by iconic action director John Woo... so I suspect it wil be an altogether different kind of mission to the first one. Watch this space...

Mission Impossible at NUTS4R2
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to click on one of the titles below to take you to my review.

Mission Impossible
Mission Impossible 2
Mission Impossible 3
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation 
Mission Impossible: Fallout

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