Wednesday, 19 August 2009
'Mission: Impossible' (De Palma, 1996)
Brian De Palma is quoted as saying that he wanted the screenplay of Mission: Impossible to "constantly surprise the audience". If nothing else, De Palma succeeds entirely in accomplishing this target. There are two major twists in the first act alone. The second act has a light twist and another more moderate twist. Heck, it even has time for a false twist, and climaxes with a double-twist. Then finally, the third act twists twice more, and even has time to send the audience on its way with another amusing twist in the film's coda. And when it's not twisting, it's holding you in a tight death grip of superlatively suspenseful scenes and sequences that grab you and refuse to let go. Of all the Summer 'thrillers' we are lumbered with, this is one that truly earns the title.
Within the confines of this labyrinthine story lie a series of solid performances, not least from the film's lead, producer and key creative mind, superstar Tom Cruise. He looks sharp as a toothpick in this movie. Its a look he doesn't manage to get back in the other two films, which may well be by design - unlike the Bond movies, Cruise wanted each installment in the Mission: Impossible series to have a distinctly different feel, which was a goal he decided would best be achieved by hiring a different director for each one (we'll get to those in the following reviews). Emmanuelle Beart's sultry presence only enhances the power of an underrated performance. And Jon Voight is on predictably reliable form as Cruise's mentor and TV series protagonist, Jim Phelps.
De Palma has often been attributed as being something of a Hitchcock wannabe. This is sometimes said in a negative light, but De Palma has enough class, style and uniqueness to create his own unique twist on the suspense genre. Certainly, De Palma goes all-out noir with Dutch angles, shadowy alleys, rain soaked streets and femme fatales. His compositions are crisp, clean and highly communicative. His command of the medium feels effortless. Despite reports of a troubled production and creative clashes with Tom Cruise, De Palma looks like he's enjoying himself behind the camera as he creates one of the most deftly crafted films of his career. As much as I love his 1983 film Scarface, I can't deny that its slightly tatty edges force it to come in second place behind Mission: Impossible, which I proudly rank as my favourite film by Brian De Palma.
This film is one of the highest pedigree. With De Palma behind the camera, Cruise in front of it being accompanied by a great ensemble cast, and Robert Towne of Chinatown (Polanski, 1974) fame with a pen in his hand, the end result is a neo-noir mini-masterwork of the 90s that rarely gets the recognition it deserves.