Tag Archives: Jon Voight

Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor 


As much as it pains me to say it, I’m a die hard fan of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. It doesn’t pain me because of the backlash I get for praising it or anything, I could give a possum’s rectum what people think of my film taste, but the fact remains that I am well aware of how ridiculously dumb the love triangle at the centre of this film is, and yet I’m a sucker every time. Every other aspect of it is actually very well done, but it’s attempts to be a historical epic that uses a love story as its lynchpin are sorely misguided. Worse is the fact that I know all this to be true, yet I still get misty eyed as the heavy handed schoolyard fling between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale plays out, and further lunge for the Kleenex box as Josh Hartnett enters the picture to drive a Bruckheimer sized wedge between them. So what’s my problem, you ask? No clue, other than being a hopeless romantic whose brain flatlines at the first hint of a soppy sideshow. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the two things that make this film work really well: the deafening, thunderous recreation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and the jaw dropping cast of actors on display here. All wildlife was cleared from the harbour area prior to filming, and legions of period authentic boats and planes were shipped in to make this one of the most ambitious cinematic versions of a siege ever assembled. When the ambush starts, we feel every percussive blast and fiery crash as the US army/navy forces are taken completely by surprise, foxholes and sadly decimated by a cunning Japanese armada. When the fog of the first wave clears, we see the carnage left in its wake and feel the sheer desperate urgency of nurses and medics as they race to collect and treat the wounded, a well staged yet heartbreaking sequence. Hans Zimmer gives it his all to accompany all of this too, my favourite strain called ‘Tennessee’ opening the film with a prologue involving young Affleck and Hartnett, with a moving cameo from William Fichtner. Speaking of the cast, it’s unbelievable, and I’ve always considered this to be the sister film to Black Hawk Down, purely for the amount of actors who appear in both. Alec Baldwin scores grit points as a salty veteran heading up the eventual counter attack, Cuba Gooding Jr. is most excellent as a navy cook turned war hero, Tom Sizemore kicks ass as a plane mechanic who grabs a shotgun when the shit gets heavy, Jennifer Garner, Jaime King and more show resilience and compassion as nurses who step up when needed most, Jon Voight is stubborn and stoic as Teddy Roosevelt himself, Dan Akroyd brings salty wit to a military analyst, Mako is noble and reluctant as the Japanese commander, Scott Wilson is quietly diligent as infamous General George C. Marshall, and the list just goes on with vivid work from Kim Coates, Ewen Bremmer, Leland Orser, Glenn Moreshower, William Lee Scott, Michael Shannon, Cary Tagawa, Matthew Davis, Colm Feore, Sean Gunn, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Sung Kang, Eric Christian Olsen, Tony Curran and more. Say what you want about this one, many loathe it (just ask Trey Parker & Matt Stone), but there’s no denying its scope, ambition and technical undertaking. Also it just has an exquisite love story to rival that of Gone With The Wind and Titanic. Haaaa… just kidding. Or am I? 😉

-Nate Hill

John Singleton’s Rosewood: A Review by Nate Hill 

John Singleton’s Rosewood is a partly fictionalized, greatly dramatized retelling of one of the largest lynchings and subsequent conflicts in American history. The time is 1923, the place is Rosewood, a small southern town populated largely by African communities. When borderline insane local housewife Fanny (Catherine Kellner) is caught in the midst of a violent sexual fling, a young black man accidentally stumbles upon the scene. Being the crazy bitch she is, she melodramatically pins it on him, inciting the wrath of the town. The real culprit was of course a white dude, played briefly by Robert Patrick before fleeing the county for good. Because of this selfish misdirection, every white man and his mother now wants the boy hung, and it escalates with the speed of a prairie fire until a full scale race war rages through Rosewood. A lone mercenary called Mann (Ving Rhames) happens to be around and lends his quickdraw talents to the townsfolk who are being hunted. The sheriff (Michael Rooker) is somewhat of a pushover, and unable to quell the mob anyway, especially when it’s led by a rabid Bruce McGill, who is scary and then some. The only white boy who has anything but ropes or torches to offer these poor folks is a kindly store owner played by Jon Voight, who shelters a group of them on his property, much to the mob’s anger. Voight’s character is odd; when we meet him he is in heated coitus with one of his shopkeeps, a young African girl. It’s later revealed that she’s afraid of him. Despite this dark piece of his arc, Singleton treats him as a hero, begging the question, were there scenes cut that elaborated on his relationship with her? Such imbalances in tone can be found in the story as well: much of the film is treated with a combination of severe melodrama and true crime drama, speckled here and there with jarring little bits of pulp that feel like they’re from a Django type flick. Wouldn’t have been the narrative mix I would have used, but perhaps Singleton’s hand slipped and too much of an aspect fell in which he only ever meant as a subtle garnish. Nevertheless, it’s very solidly made, wherever it sits on the genre map, with all the actors, particularly the African townsfolk, shining nicely. It’s disturbing as well, with the black body count reaching sickening heights and the racist fever at a vicious spike in temperature. It’s a scary scenario when the hunters greatly outnumber the hunted, and mass deaths are imminent, especially when such anger is involved. Sympathy is earned in spades from the viewer, as well as the urge to look away at least a few different times. I haven’t done my research on the real story so I couldn’t tell you where it falls on the authenticity charts, but I suspect a great deal of it has been exaggerated for effect and impact. In that, it succeeds, if faltering in tone a few times to puzzle the viewer, before getting back on track. 

ALI – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Ever since Ali was released in 2001, I have felt that it has been one of Michael Mann’s most under-appreciated films. It received decidedly mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office. While Will Smith was praised for his impressive physical transformation into legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, the film itself was criticized for revealing nothing new about the man. Herein lies the problem that Mann faced: how do you shed new light on one of the most documented historical figures of the 20th century? His angle on the material was to look inwards.

Proposals for an Ali biopic had been around since the early 1990s when producer and one-time business partner of the boxer, Paul Ardaji, pitched the idea to the man on his 50th birthday. Ali gave the project his blessing and financing quickly fell into place. A number of scripts were written by the likes of Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans) and Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon), but they all failed to please the powers that be. The project bounced around various studios for years as executives tried to decide who should make it, who should star in it, and would it even make a profit? In 1991, Oliver Stone met with Ali about making a film about his life but the collaboration ended when the director refused to share creative control. In 1992, Ali’s best friend and personal photographer Howard Bingham and Ali’s wife Lonnie got together with Ardaji. Gregory Allen Howard’s take on Ali was delivered in 1996. His angle was that the key to the boxer’s life was his relationship with his father, who ignored him.

When Will Smith met Ali in 1997, the boxer asked the actor to play him in the film. Smith was flattered but said no. He was not ready and too intimidated for such a demanding role. The actor almost did it when Barry Sonnenfeld agreed to direct. Both men had worked together on the Men in Black movies and Wild Wild West (1999). Thankfully, their version never saw the light of day. After he turned 30, Smith realized that he had to make the decision about playing Ali. However, when no one could settle on a script, Sonnenfeld dropped out. There were several more rewrites and directors, including Curtis Hanson who expressed interest. Smith was ready to give up on the project.

It then came down to Spike Lee or Michael Mann to fill the director’s chair left empty by Sonnenfeld. Sony Pictures, the studio bankrolling the film, was faced with a $100+ million budget and went with Mann who had just received several Academy Award nominations and all kinds of critical praise for The Insider (1999). Upset, Lee voiced his anger through a friend in The New York Post: “Only a black man could do justice to the Cassius Clay story,” he was reported as saying. Mann responded that he “wanted the film to come from the point of view of the main character, Muhammed Ali. I’m not interested in showing a white man’s idea of how someone suffered racism. The perspective of the film has to be African-American.” When asked why he did not pick a black director Ali said that he wanted the best qualified person regardless of color, and his wife said, “Muhammad didn’t want it to be a movie just for black audiences. He wanted it to be a movie for all cultures and all people.”

When Mann was approached to direct he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to tackle such challenging subject matter but was sure of one thing; he did not want to make a docudrama or idealize Ali’s life. After meeting with Ali and his wife, they told him that they did not want “a teary Hallmark-greeting version of Muhammad Ali … What they didn’t want I didn’t want,” Mann remembers. The director liked Rivele and Wilkinson’s screenplay but rejected their flashback structure and their use of Ali’s 1978 fight, the “Thrilla in Manila,” as the present frame of the story. Mann felt that Ali’s 1974 fight in Zaire was more significant. He was also not interested in spelling things out for the audience: “I wanted to insert you into the stream of this man’s life, orient you without doing it in a blatant way with exposition.” Ironically, this is what would scare off a lot of people.

Smith’s agent arranged a meeting with Mann that changed his attitude towards the film. According to the actor, it was “the clear picture he had of the road from Will Smith to Muhammed Ali. He explained it in a way that made it seem, in my mind at least, not so utterly impossible, just marginally improbable.” Smith and Mann agreed that the film’s focus should be on ten turbulent years of Ali’s life, from 1964 to 1974. The director set the film during these years because “that formation of everything by ’74 is the beginning of what is now culturally in the United States.” Mann identified Ali with the spirit of change that occurred in the 1960s. “He consistently defied the establishment and its conventions, and we loved him for it.” Ali led such a colorful, eventful life that a focused story was crucial to the film. Mann said in an interview, “It would be catastrophic to divert into every interesting story. Everything this guy does is fascinating. I could have made an entire movie about Ali’s relation to women. Music, Cadillac convertibles and women. It would have been great.”

By February 23, 2000, Mann signed on to the film and went to work transforming Will Smith into Ali. Smith remembers that Mann created the “Muhammad Ali Course Syllabus” that began with a study of the boxer’s physical attributes: “learning to run how he ran, to eat the food he ate, spar the way he sparred. Essentially creating the physical life and physical appearance of Muhammad Ali.” From there, Smith moved on to the mental and emotional aspects and finally the man’s spirituality. Boxer trainer-choreographer Darrell Foster spent a year training Smith. Foster was Sugar Ray Leonard’s conditioning coach when the boxer turned pro. According to Foster, the key to becoming Ali was “looking for specific movements. Hand speed, ring generalship, how he made guys miss. Will had to become Ali, because you can’t demonstrate those moves through choreography.” Foster created a high-carb, high-protein diet for Smith and had him run in combat boots through snow in the thin air of Aspen, Colorado for ten months before the start of filming. His training schedule consisted of five miles of roadwork starting at 5:30 am, in the gym at 11:30 am, six days a week for three hours of ring work and weight training, watching fight films at 3 pm, and weight training in the evening. Smith put on 35 pounds of pure muscle in four months and went from bench-pressing 175 pounds to being able to press a very impressive 365 pounds. The finishing touch was being fitted with a hairpiece and a prosthetic nose.

For the fights, Foster started Smith on the basics: balance, footwork and defense. Then, he worked with the actor on the offensive aspects: a mix of overhand rights, hooks and upper cuts. Foster remembers that Smith “thought he knew how to fight because he had some street fights. But really, he couldn’t fight at all.” Smith worked on his hand and eye reflexes in order to perform eleven of Ali’s signature moves. Smith spent days studying film of Ali, including early footage shot when he was an Olympic boxing champion to interviews with Howard Cosell. Much of the material, unseen for years, was supplied by Leon Gast, a documentary filmmaker who made When We Were Kings (1996), a celebrated and acclaimed documentary about Ali’s championship bout with George Foreman. Smith also took classes in Islamic studies at the University of California.

aliThe focus on the years 1964 to 1974 are arguably the most fascinating ones of Ali’s life because they are so rife with dramatic possibilities. It was during this period that Ali became the World Boxing Champion after beating Sonny Liston, then lost it when he refused to serve as a foot soldier in the Vietnam War, and finally reclaimed the Championship Title after beating the odds-on favorite, George Foreman in Zaire. It was also a time of great social and political upheaval in the United States with the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, Ali also shows the man’s private side: his numerous wives and failed marriages, and his friendships with Malcolm X and Howard Cosell.

Mann immediately immerses the audience in the time period with a montage of footage that features Sam Cooke performing in front of a live audience juxtaposed with Ali jogging alone at night and being harassed briefly by the police. Mann then goes into a montage of Ali training and two boxers fighting with Ali watching. Mann fractures time by also intercutting footage of Ali as a child witnessing the brutality of racism and its effects as he sees a newspaper article about the vicious beating of Emmet Till. The film then cuts back to a mature Ali sitting in on a lecture by Malcolm X. The entire montage is masterfully edited to the beats of a medley of Sam Cooke songs. This opening sequence establishes the Impressionistic take that Mann is to going to have on Ali’s life. It is also one of his most complex, layered opening credits sequence because he shifts time frames and presents us with all of these apparently unconnected images without explaining them. This is done on purpose in order to establish a mood, give an impression of the look and feel of the film and to set up that we are seeing the world through Ali’s eyes.

The fight scenes are covered from every conceivable angle as Mann cuts back and forth from shots outside and inside the ring. The first shot we get of the ring is a close-up of the red ropes and in Mann’s films this color signifies danger. There is the potential for Ali to not just lose the fight but possibly his life. This is a risk every time a boxer steps into the ring. In the Liston fight, Mann alternates between camerawork inside the ring, with tight and close point-of-view angles so that we are right in the ring with the boxers, and shots just outside of the ring but still close to the fighters. This gives the fight scenes a real visceral impact and immediacy that has not been seen since Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980). The Liston fight also shows how Ali could work a crowd of boxing fans just as well and in just the same way as the crowd of journalists before the fight.

Unlike most boxing films, Mann wanted to get inside the ring in order “to bring you inside the strategy and tactics, to bring you into the round as far as I could.” To this end, Mann would often be in the ring with the fighters with a very small digital camera. To achieve the most realistic fight scenes possible, Mann really had Smith and the other boxers hit each other. The director recalled one such incident: “When James Toney as Joe Frazier knocks Will down, we did three takes of that — every single one of those left hooks he connected. When Will stands up on the one that’s in the film, that wobble is not acting — you can tell how shaky he is.”

Mann also uses a cool, blue color to suggest intimacy and does so in the scene where Ali and Sonji (Jada Pinkett Smith), who would become his first wife, dance in a nightclub. They are close together, flirting with each other as Mann drenches the scene in blue much like he did with Neil McCauley entering his house in Heat (1995) and Will and Molly making love in Manhunter (1986). Ali is temporarily in an area of safety and love but this will change very soon.

After an interview with legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell (Jon Voight), Ali’s life takes a turn for the worse as he refuses to be inducted in the Army and is arrested. He then denounces the war in an interview and is subsequently labeled as being unpatriotic. He is stripped of his boxing title as Heavyweight Champion of the World, his boxing license and his passport. Like Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider, Ali is threatened by the powers that be for telling the truth and being his own man. It becomes obvious that this is a war of attrition in an effort to bleed Ali dry financially and threaten him with five years in jail. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the Temple of Islam suspends him just like they did to Malcolm X.

Cosell and Ali meet up and the veteran broadcaster, conscious of how bad off his friend is but not acknowledging it publicly, puts him on television despite network pressure. Cosell allows Ali to speak his piece about his ban and dazzles everyone again with his showmanship. It really is a testimony to Cosell that he did this. When everyone else had abandoned Ali, the T.V. personality stuck by him and used his considerable clout to put him back in the public eye. This interview is the turning point for Ali who wins a fight. Only then does Herbert and the Temple of Islam come back to him but Ali makes it clear that they do not own him. His eyes have been opened and he now knows just how much he can trust them.

Ali culminates with the legendary Rumble in the Jungle where Ali fought George Foreman in Zaire. Ali was not the favorite going in as Foreman was younger, stronger and the Champ. Mann, again, hints at the potential danger of this opponent when we see Foreman training, pounding a punching bag with powerful hits all with a greenish filter, a sign of peril in a Mann film. Sure enough, during this period Ali drives away his second wife (Nona Gaye) who does not like his relationship with the Temple of Islam because she feels that they are exploiting him. While still married to her, Ali becomes interested in a female journalist (Michael Michele) from Los Angeles who is in Zaire doing a profile on the boxer. This relationship effectively ruins his second marriage and Mann does not gloss over this showing that Ali was clearly in the wrong.

This portion of the film was shot in Johannesburg, South Africa and from there, an hour journey to Maputo, Mozambique because Mann liked the architecture in Maputo. In 1974, the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” bout between Ali and George Foreman took place in Kinshasa, Zaire which had since become the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there was too much political unrest for Mann to shoot there in 2000. Associate producer Gusmano Gesaretti remembers that Mann fell in love with the architecture in Maputo. It was predominantly built by the Portuguese during the middle to later part of the century with buildings done in Art Deco-style curves and arches alongside others with straight lines in the block style of the 1960s. All were very aged and weather-beaten and looked very much the way Kinshasa was in the 1970s.

The “Rumble in the Jungle” was filmed over five weeks in Machava Stadium, five kilometers northwest of Maputo. The stadium was used to host large international soccer tournaments but had fallen into disrepair — there wasn’t even any electricity. The production spent $100,000 repairing and upgrading the 64,000-seat capacity stadium. They structurally engineered and replicated a ring and canopy that was 40 feet high, 82 feet wide and weighed over 40 tons. Over 10,000 extras were needed for the scene where Ali makes his entrance into the stadium. Fliers were distributed in Maputo inviting people to watch the filming. The production also cast 2,000 extras that would be costumed and fill seats on the floor around the ring. On the night of the scene, over 30,000 people showed up.

Known mostly for mindless, yet entertaining action films like Bad Boys (1995) and Independence Day (1996), Will Smith was not exactly most people’s first choice to play Muhammad Ali. However, Smith shows that he has the capacity for more substantial work with Six Degrees of Separation (1993) but he had never attempted anything as challenging as this project. Smith captures Ali’s distinctive speech patterns, especially his flamboyant, larger-than-life public persona. Like Anthony Hopkins before him in Nixon (1995), Smith does not look exactly like the actual person he is playing. Instead, he manages to capture the essence and the spirit of the man. He also does a good job of conveying Ali’s conflict between his loyalty to Islam and to his family and friends. Smith peels back the layers to show that there was so much more than Ali’s flashy public side. For example, most people only saw Ali and Cosell as antagonists, but this was only for show. In fact, they were good friends and the sportscaster was willing to help him out in any way possible.

Ali-Howard-CosellWhile Smith was praised for his impressive physical transformation into legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, the film itself was criticized for revealing nothing new about the man. Herein lies the problem that Mann and company faced: how do you shed new light on one of the most documented historical figures of the 20th Century? Ali eschews the traditional docudrama for a more impressionistic take on the man and life. Mann’s film may not say anything new about the famous boxer, but it does depict an exciting ten years of his life in a masterful and richly evocative fashion. It’s a surprisingly soulful take on Ali and an excellent addition to Mann’s impressive body of work.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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A lot was riding on Mission: Impossible (1996) for Tom Cruise. Not only was it the first film he produced (in addition to starring), it was also his first attempt to kick start his own film franchise. And what better way to do this than resurrecting a classic television show from the 1960s? Cruise, always the calculated risk taker, wisely surrounded himself with talented people: Robert Towne co-wrote the screenplay, Brian De Palma directing and the likes of Jon Voight, Jean Reno, and Vanessa Redgrave in the cast. At the time, the James Bond franchise was in a transitional period and didn’t produce a new film until the following year. Mission: Impossible was a huge box office success spawning a franchise that continues to produce installments.

Jim Phelps (Voight) leads his group of IMF agents on a mission to intercept Alexander Golitsyn (Marcel Iures), a traitorous attaché, who has stolen a list of the code names for all of the CIA operatives in Europe. He plans to steal the other half of the list with their real names from an embassy in Prague. One by one, members of the team are killed off by mysterious assailants. Only Ethan Hunt (Cruise) survives the bungled mission and rendezvous later with his superior, Kittridge (a wonderfully twitchy Henry Czerny) in a restaurant. Over the course of their conversation, Ethan realizes that he was set-up and that another team was shadowing his own. Kittridge reveals that the embassy debacle was actually an elaborate scheme to expose a traitor within the IMF organization and he believes that it is Ethan and that he also killed his entire team.

De Palma conveys Ethan’s growing sense of paranoia and panic in this scene through increasingly skewed camera angles as the magnitude of what has happened begins to sink in. Henry Czerny plays the scene beautifully as Kittridge talks to Ethan as a parent might scold a child. The conversation between them culminates with a daring escape as Ethan causes a large aquarium to explode, using the ensuing chaos to make his getaway. This scene was Cruise’s idea. There were 16 tons of water in all of the tanks but there was a concern that when they blew, a lot of glass would fly around. De Palma tried the sequence with a stuntman but it did not look convincing and he asked Cruise to do it despite the possibility that the actor could have drowned.

Ethan regroups at a safe house where he meets Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), another surviving member of his team. He must find out who set him up and retrieve the list. To aid him in his endeavor, Ethan enlists the help of Claire and two other disavowed agents (Ving Rhames and Jean Reno). The film really gets going once Cruise hooks up with Reno and Rhames (playing an ace hacker no less) and they decide to break into CIA headquarters for what is Mission: Impossible’s most famous set piece. This impressively staged sequence is cheekily dubbed the “Mount Everest of hacks” by Ethan and is masterfully orchestrated by De Palma. The heart of this sequence is nearly soundless proving that one doesn’t need a ton of explosions and gunfire to have an exciting, tension-filled action sequence (Michael Bay take note).

Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the television series and had tried for years to make a film version but had failed to come up with a viable treatment. Cruise was a fan of the show since he was young and thought that it would be a good idea for a film. The actor chose Mission: Impossible to be the first project of his new production company and convinced Paramount to put up a $70 million budget. Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner worked on a story with filmmaker Sydney Pollack for a few months when the actor hired Brian De Palma to direct. They went through two screenplay drafts that no one liked. The screenwriting team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) wrote a draft and then David Koepp (The Shadow) was reportedly paid $1 million to rewrite it. According to one project source, there were problems with dialogue and story development. However, the basic plot remained intact. De Palma brought in screenwriter Steve Zaillian (A Civil Action) and finally Robert Towne to work on the script. According to the director, the goal of the script was to “constantly surprise the audience.”

Amazingly, even with all of these talented screenwriters working on it, the film went into pre-production without a script that the filmmakers wanted to use. De Palma designed the action sequences but neither Koepp nor Towne were satisfied with the story that would make these sequences take place. Towne helped organize a beginning, middle and end to hang story details on while De Palma and Koepp worked on the plot. The director convinced Cruise to set the first act of the film in Prague, a city rarely seen in Hollywood films at the time. Reportedly, studio executives wanted to keep the film’s budget in the $40-$50 million range but Cruise wanted a “big, showy action piece” that took the budget up to the $70 million range.

The script that Cruise approved called for a final showdown to take place on top of a moving train. The actor wanted to use the famously fast French train the TGV but rail authorities did not want any part of the stunt performed on their trains. When that was no longer a problem, the track was not available. De Palma visited railroads on two continents trying to get permission. Cruise took the train owners out to dinner and the next day they were allowed to use it. For the actual sequence, the actor wanted wind that was so powerful that it could knock him off the train. Cruise had difficulty finding the right machine that would create the wind velocity that would look visually accurate before remembering a simulator he used while training as a skydiver. The only machine of its kind in Europe was located and acquired. Cruise had it produce winds up to 140 miles per hour so it would distort his face. Most of the sequence, however, was filmed on a stage against a blue screen for later digitizing by the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic.

The filmmakers delivered Mission: Impossible on time and under budget with Cruise doing most of his own stunts. Initially, there was a sophisticated opening sequence that introduced a love triangle between Phelps, his wife Claire and Ethan that was removed because it took the test audience “out of the genre,” according to De Palma. There were rumors that Cruise and De Palma did not get along and they were fueled by the director excusing himself at the last moment from scheduled media interviews before the film’s theatrical release.

In some scenes, Cruise has a tendency to over-emote, like when Ethan is reunited with Claire after their entire team has been wiped out. Sleep deprived and paranoid, Ethan yells at Claire, “They’re dead! They’re all dead!” It’s an embarrassing bit of overacting on Cruise’s part but the actor redeems himself somewhat later on in a cheeky bit of acting when he cons Reno over a CD of vital information through a clever display of sleight of hand.

The film’s overriding theme is one of deception, a world where nothing is what it seems. The prologue has a disguised Ethan trick a captive man into giving up a name of a key operative. This is only one of many disguises (created by make-up legend Rob Bottin) he adopts throughout the film in order to obtain information or trick an opponent. The prologue also cleverly serves as a metaphor for filmmaking. The spy trade, like cinema, is all about creating an illusion and pretending to be something that you’re not. In addition, several members of his team are not who they appear to be as well and this keeps the audience guessing as to who is “good” and who is “bad.”

mi_still02The common complaint leveled at Mission: Impossible was that it was hard to follow, fueling speculation that De Palma’s original cut was non-linear in nature and that Cruise re-cut it after disastrous test screenings. Regardless, if one is paying attention to what is happening and what is being said (or not being said, in some cases) it isn’t difficult to navigate the film’s narrative waters. The script is lean and unusually well-written for a big budget action blockbuster, which is quite amazing when you consider how many writers worked on it. Make no mistake about it; this is a paycheck film for De Palma. However, being the consummate professional that he is, the veteran director still delivers an entertaining film with some nice stylistic flourishes. What more could you ask for from this kind of film?