Mission: Impossible

When you look at this movie in comparison to the new movie, the difference ten years has brought is clear.  This is an espionage thriller, about people sneaking around and telling and keeping secrets, putting on masks and pulling switches and double-crosses.  The new movie (and I suppose the 2nd one too) is an action movie, full of kinetic set pieces, chaotic editing and post-Greengrass mise-en-scene.  In comparison, Mission: Impossible is elegant, a little stodgy and, well, sorry, Hitchcockian in its design.

Some DePalmisms that nevertheless show up in this most genre-y of DePalma movies:

*Images on TV/computer screens
*People watching them
*We watch along with the people
*Those images often lie
*1st-person camera
*Shifting point-of-view
*Split-screens (imitation, in this case)
*Unreliable flash-back (Tom recounts one chain of thought, we see the opposite in his thoughts)
*Killing off main characters (and major stars) in the first act (Jon Voight!  Kristen Scott-Thomas!  Emilio Estevez!  Whoever plays the other woman!*)
*Dead people turning out not to be dead after all
*David Koepp
*Long, pointy things (two: one set of pointy things impales Emilio, the other nearly impales Tom)

DePalma, again, shows that he can wring suspense and excitement from things like numbers changing on a readout panel, telephones and beads of sweat.

The train sequence still looks great ten years later.

Relative lack of over-the-top performances.  Everybody’s pretty naturalistic, within the parameters of these kinds of movies.  Notable exception, Henry Czerny’s sneering, snarling, double-plus unctuous bad-guy-or-is-he CIA guy.  When I saw this movie ten years ago I wondered what Czerny was thinking, but now, after a week of watching nothing but DePalma, I’m wondering why the whole cast isn’t like that.

Danny Elfman.  I love him, he’s great, one of the great film composers of our day.  And his work here is great.  But DePalma usually uses Italian guys.  Was Elfman his choice?  Or was that the studio saying “Look, he did Batman, he did Dick Tracy, obviously he knows this pop-kitsch stuff, just use him already.”

I have a question about espionage thrillers in general.  People are always blowing shit up in public places, sending cars flying into the air, blasting bridges and hotels and cathedrals, yet everything they’re doing is supposed to be very, very secret.  I like the famous computer break-in sequence because it hinges on that silence and invisibility.  But, I’m wondering, what are spies thinking when they blow up a car in the middle of a public square, or destroy a restaurant to make a getaway, or any one thing James Bond does in any given fifteen minutes of his day?

And, like what happened to the dead people after the first act of the movie ended?  Poor Emilio, he’s gotten his head impaled on top of an elevator, who’s going to go get him and make sure he gets a proper burial?  We’ve already been told how this mission doesn’t exist and how no one must know they’re there, how long before Emilio starts to stink and drip body-juices down into the elevator, and some poor embassy staffer is going to have to go up there and scrape him off the top of the elevator?  How is this supposed to work?

*Her name is, I’m not even kidding, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and she is the veteran of 40 films, many in Russia.  Impressive, for a woman who, from the looks of her name, is the daughter of The Swedish Chef.
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One Response to “Mission: Impossible”
  1. leborcham says:

    Wow…I’d forgotten MI:1 came out ten years ago…feel old…Did you ever read THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY by John LeCarre? Absolutley gripping, edge of your seat suspense in chapters about people looking for files. In a way Munich was an espionage film, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I also liked the BOURNE movies. I really like Paul Greengrass, and the good reviews of FLIGHT 93 make me curious…

    …but not that curious.