“An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.”

Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Bruce Geller, David Koepp, Steven Zaillian
Staring: Tom Cruise, John Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames
Release Date: May 22, 1996

My girlfriend and I have embarked on a glorious quest to watch all of the Mission Impossible movies. She has not seen any of them, and I need a refresher before Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1 (2023) comes out next year.

Mission Impossible (1996) absolutely rocks. It still holds up over 25 years later. Director Brian De Palma has the flair for the dramatic quiet moments and the explosive set pieces. The plot unfolds like an origami piece until finally all the answers are laid out flat right in front of you. Mission Impossible takes your attention in the opening minutes and puts it in a stranglehold until the credits roll, all while that iconic theme song is constantly playing in your mind.

Mission Impossible is the story of Ethan Hunt, a young but successful agent for the underground government known as the IMF. Hunt works under team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), a man that he deems as a mentor and father figure. Phelps enlightens his squad of spies of their mission, which is to protect the contents of a data disk containing the true identities of United States prize across the globe. This NOC list is wanted by a criminal mastermind known as Max to sell to the highest bidder.

Shit goes sideways on the EMF mission. Real sideways. Hunt’s team is murdered, killed off one-by-one. Everyone is presumed dead. Hunt is left flabbergasted but does his duty and calls EMF head honcho Kittridge (Henry Czerny) to update him on the scenario.

Hunt learns that this IMF mission was entirely a ploy to unearth a mole within the IMF, and in particular Hunt’s team. Kittridge has his eyes set on Hunt as the traitor. And off we go. We get a big-ass explosion, Hunt running away from his accusers, and the catalyst for the remainder of the movie.

Hunt decides that the only way for him to get off Kittridge’s radar as a traitor is to steal the actual NOC list, contact Max, and expose the mole within IMF, who formally called himself Job. Hunt contacts Max, strikes a deal, assembles his own team, attempts a miraculous heist, attempts to avoid further backstabbers and plans a over-the-top “who’s the bad guy” reveal.

Sounds impossible right? Not for Ethan Hunt.

Re-watching Mission Impossible for the first time in a long time, it is remarkable how De Palma is able to hide the little things among all the big moments. If you pay close enough attention, you can see how the plots true end point is constantly peaking its head around the corner. The angles at which we are shown certain characters, the quick cut to show an empty spaces, the extra emphasis on little character actions; different variations of these positive attributes all make it a great movie for multiple viewings.

In terms of acting in Mission Impossible, the only one that gets the red pen is Emmanuelle Béart. Playing the part of Claire, Phelps’ wife, Béart is never the highlight of a scene she is in. Her lack of emotive capabilities is highlighted most when she shares the screen with Cruise. Cruise is frantic, eyes and mind moving a million miles a minute even when his body is still. Claire has the same dead-pan “I am pretty” look no matter the scene. As a silver lining, part of the necessary plot movement is Claire and Ethan having sexual attraction and tension. This part of Béart’s performance hits the mark because she has the eyes that act as tractor beams.

Before touching on anything else in Mission Impossible, we need to address how Claire is the wife of Phelps. Listen. love is love. But do you see these two people?

You are going to tell me this isn’t a 1990s version of Ana De Armas?

Absolutely crazy stuff! I was just at a wedding this past weekend and there was a couple where the man so out-kicked his coverage with his girlfriend that it was impossible not to notice. This is the equivalent of that in movie form. Wowzers.

The standout performer in Mission Impossible is Henry Czerny. The character of Kitridge is awesome. He is the boss that everyone hates, but everyone loves to hate. The scene between Kittridge and Hunt in the cafe is arguably the best in the scene, and part of what makes it so good is how Czerny delivers his lines with extra pizzaz and a careful drawn-outness.

He is a cold son of a bitch. He wants to get his mission done. He is out to protect himself and ensure that his assets are intact. Also, Kittridge is fucking hilarious.

“Just mail him his clothes.” RUTHLESS.

In the next Mission Impossible movie, the eighth in the installment, Kittridge returns for the first time since his 1996 debut. This time around in Dead Reckoning, Kittridge appears to be the bad guy. I fucking love this idea. Kittridge grew up in the same world as Hunt, and he knows what Hunt was capable of at a young age. I really can’t wait to see how he fell disillusioned with the idea of the government, the IMF, etc.

“Your days of fighting for the so-called greater good are over. This is our chance to control the truth. The concepts of right and wrong for everyone for centuries to come. You’re fighting to save an ideal that doesn’t exist. Never did. You need to pick a side.”

Kittridge speaking in the Dead Reckoning trailer

This sentiment that Kittridge is putting forward can resonate with Hunt. Kittridge is speaking to the idea of controlling ones viewpoint on a situation, just as Hunt did in Mission Impossible when he proved himself innocent to Kittridge. Hunt the character can not die physically, but can he kill his sense of morality and self-identity?

Back to Mission Impossible.

The sequence of Hunt stealing the real NOC list is an all-time spy scene. It is simply remarkable. The suspense, the shots, the staging, the pace, the editing, the payoff. All of it. It is all perfect. No complaints. You notice him with the two different CDs. You notice the same knife and start connecting the dots.

Another unbelievable scene in Mission Impossible is not the ending on the train, or the meeting with Max.

Spoilers alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie.

The interaction between Hunt and Phelps when they meet at the train station is an acting espionage showcase. Just fucking incredible shit. Hunt thought that Phelps was dead, so imagine seeing your dead mentor there staring you straight in the face. The shock Cruise shows is fantastic, but it is nothing to the poker face he puts on when he and Phelps are talking in the cafe.

You can see the wheels turning in Hunt’s head. He knows all the pieces to the puzzle, and now he is starting to put together the border. The more Phelps talks, the more he is seeing the full picture. Hunt ends up playing Phelps just as Phelps played him. It is awesome. The student becomes the master.

If there is one nit-picky thing that I can point out about Mission Impossible, it is that it can be confusing for viewers who aren’t noticing the small things. I had to pause the movie a few times to connect the dots for my girlfriend and her mom. The movie does not slow down for you to catch up with it.

Mission Impossible holds up. I don’t care if the effects are dated or if the technology is ancient. The story can stand decades of punching, and the pace that which Da Palma takes the audience on an adventure is equivalent to hitting a mushroom in Mario Kart. ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM. All about the Mission Impossible train.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.0/5 Stars)

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