Classic Intel: Mission: Impossible - DVD Review

'the standout sequence is still the quiet tension of the CIA vault break-in, with Reno dangling Cruise from a wire into a room where touch, temperature and sound are all monitored'

Now infamous for establishing a cast of characters in its first ten minutes before proceeding to kill most of them off in its second ten, Mission: Impossible was a TV series adaptation which aspired to take its source material to new, more box-office friendly, heights. Unsuited to the role of Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), the Cruise/Wagner produced film manipulates a new hero for Tom Cruise to embody in the shape of operative Ethan Hunt, now a veritable contemporary film icon, having re-appeared in two sequels to date, with a fourth film due before the year's end.

Whilst the second film got stuck in John Woo slow motion hell and the third film saw J. J. Abrams attempting to redefine the rules of the modern spy thriller, Brian De Palma's first attempt at the franchise sticks more to the established action-thriller script, with a conspiracy in the background somewhere which may or may not involve the CIA's Kittridge (Henry Czerny) and Vanessa Redgrave's devious arms smuggler Max. Elsewhere, Hunt is faced with having to work with disavowed agents Krieger (Jean Reno) and Luther (Ving Rhames), all the while struggling with his feelings for and against his boss' wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart).

De Palma - here coming off Carlito's Way and well before the dirge-like The Black Dahlia and Redacted - shows himself to be unafraid of big action set pieces and commences a pace aimed at trotting through the plot with enough speed to ensure an explosion is never far away. The standout sequence though is still the quiet tension of the CIA vault break-in with Reno dangling Cruise from a wire into a room where touch, temperature and sound are all monitored. Like much of the plot, there are holes in the sequence (Hunt catches his sweat with his hand in front of his face despite being too close to the ground to do so, still has access to the computer despite being a wanted man and where the hell did the group get hold of a couple of fire engines from anyway?) but that doesn't mean that it isn't fun and it provides a nice change in pace from the hectic rat-a-tat of the more action-orientated elements.

In terms of style too, 1996's De Palma has his nailed down pat. Conversations between individual characters are shot from angles which emphasise tension and jarring personas (De Palma has a pre-dilection with shooting looking up people's nostrils), forcing the audience to work and concentrate for their rewards in the action sequences; rarely does the director include a scene where we can 'just' watch two people talking. Likewise, his direction of Cruise is brave, eschewing the actor's more recognisable macho traits in favour of what is often something approaching underplay. The scene where Hunt returns to his safe house at the start of the film for example would normally feature a load of 'talking to myself exposition' but De Palma shoots it almost silently, Cruise only muttering 'money, money, money' as he searches for some much-needed cash.

Although Abrams' film may have bettered it eventually, this first effort still fulfils its role as a watchable spy thriller and actually looks less dated than its 2000 sequel. If De Palma had been retained for one more film with a meaty villain to direct in Dougray Scott and a minor appearance by scene-chewer extraordinaire Anthony Hopkins to manipulate, then we might not have had to wait another six years before Abrams felt safe to touch the franchise.


Look further...

Ross vs Ross analyse a scene from the film (now sadly removed from YouTube) but not the one you might expect...


  1. The call backs to Three Days of the Condor made me more than a bit giddy. The whole dispensing with the "cast" in the first ten was totally Condor, right down to the phone booth scene, which is nearly identical to Redford's scene in Condor. And the shot of the helicopter touching down in London in the third act it's a pretty nice nod to a similar shot in Condor. So. hot. As a huge De Palma fan I find this one of his more accessible films (cause it's hard to recommend Bonfire with a straight face even though I love it) and it's a lot more arty than folks give it credit for. Each scene has something deliciously depalmalicious, like the all those spiral staircase shots and tilted camera shots. I wish current action films could be so formulaic.

  2. Nice review. I always felt this was a summer movie that was rather undervalued. Plus, back then I was still on the cusp of my film snobbery and this was my introduction to Emmanuelle Béart.

  3. Snarky's - 'depalmalicious' wins this week's 'word of the week'. Never seen Three Days Of The Condor but as we speak I about to watch the trailer. Shall definitely be hunting it down.

    Nicholas - It's a proper Summer blockbuster and a fairly brainy one at that. I'm pretty sure this is the only thing I've ever seen Béart in actually.

  4. This is one of the few TV adaptations that truely worked. Most deviated so far from its TV source it was in name only.
    I've always liked this adaptation and the vault scene is a definite stand out. It looked brilliant on the big screen and you could feel the tension right through out.

  5. I've always liked it as well and one of the joys of revisiting it was to notice how well it had stood the test of time. As I say, I think MI:2 looks much more dated whereas this, aside from a few minor things, could still pass muster today.