Mission: Impossible (1996)

*. I doubt anyone at the time figured Mission: Impossible would turn into such a long-lived franchise, running for more than twenty years with the same star in the lead. But generic spy stuff never goes out of date. Bond will never die and Jason Bourne had a good run. So why not Ethan Hunt?
*. It also helped that while keeping Tom Cruise (and I don’t think he ever played a part as well) they also kept the talent around him strong and fresh. Brian De Palma directed this first instalment (he was in need of a hit), while David Koepp and Robert Towne did the script. Give those guys a lot of money and things were set to get off to a good start.
*. All of which makes the fact that I had completely forgotten this movie all the more surprising. I guess (nearly) twenty-five years is a long time, but still. The only part that had stuck with me was the immediately iconic scene of Cruise suspended from the ceiling while breaking into the CIA mainframe. I couldn’t have told you a thing about the plot. Even the climax in the Chunnel only came back to me when seeing it again.
*. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Mission: Impossible. In fact, I was impressed at how good a movie this is seeing it again. It’s only more evidence of how little stays with us of the culture we consume. Books, TV, movies . . . seen today, all but gone in a week or a month.

*. I don’t think De Palma was pushing himself too hard here, but he employs his usual bag of tricks all to good effect and without being overly distracting, building suspenseful scenes out of weird angles and interesting edits. I also like that the plot isn’t unnecessarily complicated. I think the twist is pretty clear right from the beginning, as perhaps it should be, but being able to follow everything as it unfolds is a plus.
*. Speaking of seeing the twist coming, I raised my eyebrows while listening to producer Paula Wagner talking about how great it was to have Jon Voight playing Mr. Phelps since “you wouldn’t expect him at all.” I don’t think of Jon Voight as having one of the most trustworthy faces in the business.
*. What I like most about Mission: Impossible, I think, is that it doesn’t feel like a blockbuster, despite all of the signature big moments. What De Palma, and I suspect Towne, give to the proceedings is a human scale. This is something that is also emphasized by the large close-ups of people’s faces. I even found myself looking at the stubble on Cruise’s cheeks in one scene. Too often action blockbusters become impersonal at the same time as they become more generic, but this movie never loses contact with the people in it. Not real people, to be sure, but people we can relate to. In a similar way, Prague actually feels like a real place and not just a location. Maybe it’s the lack of CGI, but I appreciated all of this.
*. As I began by saying, it is a bit surprising that I’d so completely forgotten such a good movie. But these things happen. I’m glad I watched it again, and I hope it won’t be the last time.

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