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Published on July 3rd, 2015 | by Brad

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IMFridays – Mission: Impossible

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With the imminent release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to cinemas worldwide on the 30th of July, I thought now would be a good time to take a look back over one of my great cinematic pleasures – the Mission: Impossible franchise. In a similar vein to last summer’s Ape Fridays (you remember those, right!?), I’ll be covering one Mission: Impossible per week in the lead up to the release of Rogue Nation.

The series, should we choose to view it, began in 1996. Directed by Bryan De Palma and adapted from the very popular TV series of the 1960s and 70s, Mission: Impossible largely eschewed the ensemble dynamic in favour of a star vehicle for then number one movie star in the world Tom Cruise. Cruise plays IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt, framed for the deaths of his team and on the run to prove his innocence.

The film opens with Hunt and team working on a potential source of information by blackmailing him with the staged murder of a prostitute, really team member Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Béart). We’re quickly introduced to the team, including Jack (Emilio Estevez), Sarah (Kristin Scott Thomas), Hannah (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Claire’s husband and the team leader. Phelps was also the team leader for the majority of the original series, played by Peter Graves. The team are sent to stop a traitor from stealing a list of the cover identities of a number of agents from an embassy in Prague, but things go south as the team are eliminated and Hunt is left as the sole survivor and suspect. This sends him on the run as he looks to clear his name and bring the ones responsible to justice.

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His quest brings him into contact with future series mainstay Luther Stickle (Ving Rhames), pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) and the enigmatic arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave). It was Max who was attempting to buy the list in the first place, so Hunt strikes a deal with her – he delivers her the list, she delivers her mole in the IMF (codenamed Job) to him. In order to steal the list, Hunt’s new team have to break into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and download it directly from the CIA mainframe. This leads to the most famous, enduring sequence in the film, the signature moment of the Mission: Impossible franchise.

In order to bypass the unbreakable external defences, Hunt and Krieger head in through the ventilation shafts. The plan is to lower Hunt from the ceiling to the computer terminal below. Whilst committing his aerobatic hack, Hunt must also contend with a temperature sensor which will trigger an alarm if his body heat raises the temperature of the room by a single degree, a noise sensor which will trigger an alarm if it hears so much as a whisper and a pressure-sensitive floor. Hunt is sweating with tension, the analyst who works on that computer terminal may return at any moment and Krieger, who’s holding the rope, is about to be bitten by a rat. It’s an utterly gripping scene, which propelled Mission: Impossible into the stratosphere.

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As the hand-off is made and the traitor unveiled, the film ends with Hunt fighting Job on the roof of the Eurostar as it approaches the channel tunnel, whilst Krieger tries to airlift Job out with his helicopter. It’s a bravura action sequence, quite small-scale by the standards the Mission: Impossible series would later attain but packing no less of a punch. This is quite an apt metaphor for the film, in hindsight.

Mission: Impossible was one of my favourite movies growing up, and remains a great pleasure to this day. Unusually for a Brian De Palma film, it holds up stunningly well. It’s a little over reliant on flashbacks at times, but otherwise it’s great. Ethan Hunt is the role Tom Cruise was born to play, and this is the best instalment for him as a character – whilst highly competent and intelligent, there’s still a degree of fallibility which separates him from the unstoppable, godlike force he is in II and Ghost Protocol. De Palma was always hit and miss as a director, but this for me is the best hit he ever landed. Channelling the spirit of the great Alfred Hitchcock, he crafts a thrilling, complex, intriguing mystery driven by a star on the top of his game. Mission: Impossible remains a great movie, and well worth seeking out if you’ve not seen it (and watching again if you have!)

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Next week: Would you consider the action cinema of the Orient? Perhaps Hong Kong? John Woo steps into the director’s chair to bring his brand of balletic bullet play to the table in Mission: Impossible II.

Brad

Brad

Consumer. Scribbler. Occasional drunkard. Nice beard, though...
Brad

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