‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Tom Cruise movie Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One is the summer blockbuster many of us have been waiting for. Although in a few ways it resembles the not fantastic “blockbusters” promised by Hollywood that have already come and mostly gone, it is tight, it is exciting in the hang-on-to-your-seats mode, and it really works.
Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) are assigned the task of finding the two pieces of a key that will allow its owner to take control of “The Entity,” an Artificial Intelligence device that would outthink any enemies and allow a takeover of the world. Hunt tells CIA Director Kittridge (Henry Czerny, back from early IMF films) that the best thing to do is destroy it. Kittridge wants it for the United States, telling Hunt that one piece of the key is held by old comrade Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) in Abu Dhabi. She will be selling it to someone else, person unknown.
That leads, of course, to a wild gun battle, a clever chase through the airport somewhat managed by Hunt’s buddies Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benjy Dunn (Simon Pegg). As a result, Hunt winds up dealing with Grace (Hayley Atwell), a talented pickpocket and general thief. That leads to a great car chase; at one point Hunt and Grace are actually driving a Fiat 500, generally in reverse, through winding streets being chased by a) local police, b) top soldiers from U.S. Special Forces, and c) a lunatic French assassin, Paris (Pom Klementieff).
It gets even more complicated at a meeting in Vienna, where Hunt meets old arch-enemy Gabriel (Esai Morales), Paris’s boss, who is representing “The Entity,” the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a noted arms dealer, the U.S. government, represented by Kittridge. And, of course, there’s more fighting, and eventually things wind up on a train that is out of control, leading to an incredible stunt, the one shown in the trailer where Hunt rides a motorcycle off a cliff, wearing a parachute. Atwell, in an interview, said that he actually did it eight times to get every possible camera shot. The train segment is brilliant, the tension never seems to end.
The best thing about the film is the incredible ability of all the actors. Cruise, one of the producers, was very generous. He hired really good actors and let them really let go, probably a reason they came back. Rhames and Pegg provide the human end of the team; neither does major stunts, but they’re always there for Cruise. Kirby, as the vixenish White Widow is fabulous. Her part is not long, but she dominates each scene. Ferguson is strong as an ally, a top fighter and good friend. Klementieff, who almost no one will recognize from her role at Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy, does a wonderful job as the crazed Paris. She is the one who seems the personification of the enemy, even more than Morales. Shea Wigham and Gary Tarzan Davis are really good as the two soldiers sworn to bring Hunt in, who are really torn between duty and what they think might be right. Their parts are small, but by investing in really good actors, they actually give the film a boost — a verbal moral check through the action.
But Atwell is the real gem. Although part of the blockbuster world as Captain America’s love interest in his first movie, you forget that here with the strength of her performance. She handles comic bits as well as action, and was able to match Cruise in the stunts. Their chemistry was off the charts. I can’t imagine doing the second part without her.
Cruise, of course, is still Cruise. Handsome, suave, incredibly tough. He has been eligible for AARP membership for years, and in a handful of years will be on Medicare, but he’s doing the stunts, the charm and the work. It is said he saved Hollywood last year with his Top Gun movie, and may be doing the same this year with this one.
The secret, as director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has shown, is keeping the action moving but also make certain the audience is invested in the characters. As a result, this looks like the blockbuster of the summer.
If you like action films, see this one.