By Marc S. Sanders
Brian DePalma directed the first installment of Tom Cruise’s film adaptation of the Mission: Impossible series. It’s good, but not necessarily the best of the bunch.
DePalma’s approach with a script by screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) & David Koepp opens with last ditch effort at a Cold War setting. (By 1996, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond had already abandoned that point in history.)
Cobblestone streets in Prague glisten under wet street lamps as a team of spies, led by Jim Phelps (the “Captain Kirk” of the original series) with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as point man. They are attempting to prevent a buy/sell exchange of a disc containing identities of undercover agents spread across the globe. There are shadows. People walking covertly and other people watching people through cameras on eyeglasses and computer monitors. Everything is going according to plan, until as we expect, nothing goes according to plan, and Tom Cruise seems to be the only one surprised by it all. Now he’s accused of being a traitor having gotten his whole team murdered and he must go rogue (he does this a few times in the M:I films). DePalma’s opening is straight out of a John LeCarre novel. All good stuff.
More good stuff appears in act 2 when Ethan Hunt has to infiltrate CIA headquarters to retrieve another disc and allow himself to cable down into the most high tech secure room in the…well lets just say the world, that is conveniently run by the most incompetent dweeb in the…well let’s just say the world…again. The primarily silent sneak is as beautifully choreographed as a Russian ballet. It’s spectacular.
Even more good stuff occurs in act 3 in a high speed super train crossing through the Chunnel in Europe. There’s a helicopter and Tom Cruise on the roof of the train and even some exploding chewing gum. Act 3 is where DePalma, Towne & Koepp opt to leave the Cold War behind because let’s face it, no spy can remain covert when a helicopter gets tethered to a high speed train in a tunnel.
So yeah, there’s lots of goodies in Mission: Impossible, but it falls terribly short because Tom Cruise produced the film with his ego in the way. For example, he sets up a team of four, all with different specialties. They get properly introduced and then they are given not much to do except watch Tom Cruise “Ethan Hunt” his way out of one dangerous situation after another. Ving Rhames seems like an especially interesting character but all he’s reserved to is typing on a keyboard. Vanessa Redgrave puts on a charming mystery about herself for one short scene as an arms dealer only to do nothing else but sit on the train later on.
Lots of talent was assembled for this film including Jon Voight, Emilio Estevez, Jean Reno and Kristen Scott Thomas but they’re only here to be a live studio audience for Cruise’s heroics.
Compare this film to Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy is no doubt the centerpiece, but he does not own every scene. Big moments come from the supporting cast as well. There’s more variety to that picture, which Murphy produced, than Cruise’s production.
A well utilized cast can be the difference between a good picture and a great picture.