DE PALMA'S 1996 FILM KICKED OFF THE FRANCHISE IN STYLE
When Tom Cruise saw Carlito's Way, his mind got to thinking about what a Mission: Impossible movie might look like with Brian De Palma at the helm. "I want to see that movie," Cruise said to himself. The rest is history. This week, the sixth film in the series is opening to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and De Palma's first film has been getting mentioned in reviews, as well as reviewed itself in the past several weeks. Here are some links, with more surely to come:
A Different Kind of Blockbuster
If you hire Brian De Palma to helm your nearly $100 million blockbuster (whose budget seems unusually small come 2018), chances are it isn’t going resemble anything else hitting multiplexes that (or any other) year. This is precisely what happened when Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner brought the notorious Hitchcock conversationalist aboard for Mission: Impossible. It obviously wasn’t the first time De Palma had manned a massive studio picture – as he’d already churned out the ultraviolent gangster remake Scarface in ’83, its massive, David Mamet-penned period successor The Untouchables in ’87, and the infamous bomb Bonfire of the Vanities in ’90. However, his signing signaled the direction Cruise was headed with his own 007 companion piece: it was going to be an eccentric series, led by bona fide auteurs as opposed to anonymous journeying workmen.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder Mission: Impossible is possibly one of the most subversive, stylistically defined franchise entries – let alone inceptors – in cinema history. Cruise’s first outing as Impossible Mission Force Agent Ethan Hunt is just as much a showcase for De Palma’s peculiar fascinations as it is the front man’s considerable star power. Looking back on the third-highest grossing picture of ’96 twenty-two years on is a beguiling investigation of how both the series and studio filmmaking on the whole have radically evolved; notions of “shared universes” a mere glimmer in some future executive’s eye. In fact, it’s tough to watch M:I and imagine that anyone involved (beyond Cruise, of course) expected it to stretch into a decades-spanning action/adventure serial.
That De Palma Touch
De Palma has always been a pop dissident. From his earliest days helming Godardian farces such as Greetings (’68) and Hi, Mom! (’70), there’s been an air of angry rebellion contained in even his funniest work (just look at the harrowing Be Black Baby sequence from the latter for the best example). Phantom of the Paradise (’74) doubles as the director’s commentary on how commercialization can bastardize great art (having been inspired by hearing a Muzak cover of the Beatles in an elevator), and Carrie (’76) is just as much a scathing indictment of every popular high school kid – who this self-described “science dork” was the antithesis of at the same age – as it is a rip-roaring psychedelic horror show. Even his dizzying erotic thriller – the perverted, porno chic nightmare Body Double (’84) – is a knowing middle finger to the criticisms he received for his previous Hitch riffs, its title derived from the jabs taken at the stylist for using a stand-in during Angie Dickinson’s Dressed to Kill (’80) nude scenes. In short, De Palma is an artist often fueled by “fuck you”, willing to antagonize his detractors by doing whatever the hell he wants.
However, if there’s any entry in BDP’s filmography that his Mission: Impossible shares the most in common with, it’s the paranoid conspiracy thriller Blow Out (’81). In that near inscrutable masterpiece, B-Movie sound man Jack Terry (John Travolta) accidentally captures a Senatorial assassination while recording new foley effects for his latest body count picture. Using the tools of the cinematic trade, Terry reconstructs the murder into a moving image, all while an unhinged government operative (a lecherous John Lithgow) pursues him and the only other surviving witness to the crime: a lovable floozy name Sally (De Palma’s then wife Nancy Allen). Blow Out is a motion picture awash in both distrust of authority and its author’s punch-drunk love of cinema, as he utilizes all the tricks in his deep magician’s bag to craft one of our finest motion pictures.
With Mission: Impossible, De Palma essentially becomes Jack Terry, disassembling the elements that made Bruce Geller’s prime time pulp a cultural touchstone and then rebuilding them in his own image*. Hunt’s initial mission – which we bear witness to through a series of the director’s trademark Steadicam POV shots – is quickly dismantled by an unseen killer (via a rather grisly upending of expectations), placing the baby-faced operative on the run while higher ups like IMF Director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) treat him like Public Enemy No. 1 (their initial tense, post-op meeting a barrage of split-diopter shots scored by Danny Elfman’s rising strings).
Mike Ryan, Uproxx
The First ‘Mission: Impossible’ Is Crazy And Confusing — And That’s Why It’s Awesome
At no time does Mission: Impossible care if you’re confused. Why would Ethan risk the identities of hundreds of agents just to save himself? When does Kittridge start to trust Ethan again? What if Jean Reno’s Franz Krieger doesn’t buy Ethan’s little magic show and doesn’t throw his (real NOC list) disc in the trash? Yep, it doesn’t care. It just keeps going. And for all the stunts Tom Cruise does in the later films (which, to be clear, are insanely fun to watch), nothing can beat the tension of Cruise hanging an inch above a weight sensitive floor at CIA headquarters. (Again this scene is awesome. Does it make any real sense why they are there or why that room would exist? No, but holy crap it’s a great scene. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene where Ethan tells Kittridge, “You’ve never seen me very upset,” then throws the explosive gum at the aquarium. This scene is gorgeous.)
Also, the craziest thing is just the fact that Brian De Palma directed this movie. Yes, De Palma has directed some movies before that could qualify as “action,” like The Untouchables and maybe even Scarface, but Mission: Impossible is his only true “big blockbuster type movie” (as we define it today) and, not surprisingly, by far his highest grossing movie.
James Murphy, MovieViral
Throwback Thursday Viral Vault : James Murphy looks back and chooses to accept the FIRST and arguably BEST Mission : Impossible (1996)
De Palma’s direction on Mission:Impossible maintains great atmospherics and sense of paranoia. There are close-ups of blood being washed off hands or staying on a floppy disk: touching on the horror genre, without ever going TOO far into the gratuitous or adult. Indeed, there is an almost child-like innocence and curiosity about the film; perhaps in line with Cruise’s own (then) younger worldview? Upbeat tone and pace, despite the nominally shocking premise for the hero.
DePalma does channel Hitchcock here whilst making it his own. Notice that for all the consequence free escapism, this IS a film with real stakes. If Ethan Hunt is captured? He is dead and disgraced. Career. Reputation. Family. Mortality. ALL on the table. So his gamble with stealing secret information from his own side / Faustian pacts, a necessary step that sets up the film without too much contrivance, despite criticisms to the contrary. Plot is clearer and simpler than many believe. Indeed, I’d cite it as essential script study for all film writers in waiting. Every scene has something to say in a meta way about cinema, whilst existing as a self contained thriller and never breaking the 4th wall.
Some fantastic and distinctive set pieces: the Prague chase; Restaurant explosion; the CIA Heist (Kubrick meets Star Wars); the Train. Great use of sound design and editing, throughout.
And Waterloo Station (also seen in future years in franchises: Bourne Ultimatum and Mission Impossibles’ own Rogue Nation) a character in itself:.
Tom Cruise, as always, in love with London. They should give him an honorary knighthood for his services. He is second only to Richard Curtis and the rom-com brigade for the visual odes to our Brits’ beloved capital.
There are thematic layers hidden away like data in a secret vault but DePalma manages to sneak in some hints (foreshadowing fates in a brutal opening; a love triangle between the Voight /Cruise/Beart characters in the past?). And for all its high class and money glossy escapism (TGV first class, naturally!), there ARE references, albeit briefly, to dying parents, bankruptcy and a military intelligence establishment that has lost its way post Cold War yet pre 9/11. The film is set in that mid 90s, Clinton/Blair third way era calm before the storm.
Speaking of transitions and styles of leader? One could argue that the rumoured creative clashes between Cruise and DePalma actually brought out the A + Game in BOTH parties. The conflicting agendas fused in such a way that the film’s own clash of genres and tones and purposes, as well as its own, inner motif of two military intel teams competing against each other..just..works. Against the odds, backs to wall = mission, accomplished?
It is apt that the mentors here are also villains; yet thereby bring out the best in the heroes. Much needed, because Cruise’s ‘Ethan Hunt’ is simply a device, an avatar, for this series to progress. Even the name sounds like they just picked it at random. Why not just call Cruise’s character ‘Jim Phelps’ from the tv series counterpart and call the thing a reboot? Or better still: Tom Cruise is…Tom Cruise?! Yes he can act and should have Oscars to that effect (American Made: HELLO? You. woz. ROBBED!). But here? It’s HIM. Still is, in the franchise years later. Just call it out. 😉 But they had their reasons and it stands on its own terms, despite intersection / overlap with some other (then) in vogue franchise properties /aesthetics.
Stephanie Zacharek, TIME
Mission: Impossible—Fallout May Be the Best Since the Original
Before internet cat videos, before flip phones, before Beyoncé could talk–let alone sing–there was Tom Cruise. A nuclear blast might kill him, but don’t be so sure. He’s as enduring as the pyramids, if not nearly as impressive. Yet even people who don’t care for Cruise often have a weakness for the Mission: Impossible movies, and that’s as it should be. Their outlandish plots and over-the-cliff stunts are the most suitable delivery systems for his energy and undimmable wattage: he just makes sense in them.
Mission: Impossible—Fallout may be the best Mission: Impossible movie since the first, made in the dawn of the cat-Internet age, 1996, by Brian De Palma. Or perhaps it’s just the one with the mostest: even by the franchise’s extravagant standards, Fallout throws off Hope-diamond levels of grandeur.