Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mission: Impossible 1 -- The Movie

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
When a mission in Prague goes bad and everyone on IMF Agent Ethan Hunt's team is allegedly killed, he is wrongfully accused by his own people of being a mole.  Ethan goes underground and steals a list of secret agent identities with which he hopes to trade to an arms dealer in exchange for the mole.  Before making the exchange, he is shocked by the return of his presumed dead mentor, Jim Phelps, and he starts to put the pieces together of what really happened that fateful night in Prague.

Memorable Quote:
I can understand you're very upset.  ~Kittridge
Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset.   ~Ethan Hunt

The scene where Ethan is sitting across from Phelps in the London train station and he's going over what happened in Prague.  Phelps thinks he's talking about Kittridge, but Ethan is visualizing Phelps as the villainous mastermind.  And once he's pieced everything together, he gives Jim a death stare and asks "Why, Jim?  Why?"

What a brilliant scene.  The energy is amazing, the plot twist is surprising, the music is memorable, and the acting is tremendous.

As much as I love the scene described in the highlight, it was a mistake for them to make Jim Phelps the villain.  I'm not suggesting that they should have changed a single thing in the story line -- Jon Voight's character still should have been the bad guy.

What I am saying is that they should have given him a different name.  Jim Phelps was the iconic and virtuous team leader of both incarnations of the Mission Impossible tv series.  I don't believe the surprise would have been any less if Voight's character was renamed, and even so, they should never have done that out of respect to Peter Graves and the fans of the original series.  It would have been analogous to a MacGyver reboot that made Thornton a villain -- that could never happen, right?  (that sound you hear is me weeping).

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • As you can see, I'm taking a break from the MI episode watch to cover the first movie! Great use of the theme song (one of the best in tv history) in the introduction, though it didn't exactly take Einstein to know to include the theme early and often.  Kind of like how those on the MacGyver reboot obviously would know to utilize Edelman's legendary scores....wait, they used none of them,  not even the main theme? (now that sound you hear is me banging my head on my laptop).
  • 5:10 mark -- Hunt's alias is Phillipe Douchette.  Great name!
  • The first act at the nighttime embassy reception is phenomenal.  The setting is perfect: Europe...classical music...fancy party...dark cobbled streets...element of mystery.  And then it's a total shock and curveball once things being going wrong and everyone starts dying.  And then to make matters worse for Ethan, he's accused of being the mole.  The tougher the obstacles, the more compelling the story and the greater the hero, and this opening act raises the stakes right away.
  • No one, and I mean no one, is better at acting out crisis scenes than Tom Cruise. What other actor is intense enough to fill an 18 minute compilation video of sprinting scenes from his movies?  And yes, there's some sprinting in this movie too when he runs out of the aquarium.
  • I like Kittridge.  Sure he's kind of a cartoonish figure, but the actor (Henry Czerny, who I also know from Clear and Present Danger) plays him well.
  • Funny how when Ethan is searching for Max on the internet (in the very early days of the world wide web) he tries "" as if Max the arms dealer would register a domain like that.
  • Why doesn't Ethan suspect Claire more when she comes back to the safe house? Wouldn't there be a pretty good chance that she was either the mole or working with the mole since she's still alive?  He is suspicious at first but then backs off after she starts babbling about "5 AM, 0500, 5:00, Ethan, 5 AM, 0500" -- thanks Clare, we got it the first time.  
  • Another 5 star scene: Ethan Hunt meets Max, played brilliantly by Vanessa Redgrave. She and Cruise have great dialogue and chemistry, and no one, and I mean no one, plays the goofy can't-stop-grinning guy better than Cruise.

  • Now we're on to the second big act, the CIA heist.  This entire act is excellent -- it's very clever, and it's amusing without being silly.  The "lower Cruise down to the floor" bit has become a classic movie moment, and this scene where he's hanging out above the analyst is priceless.
  • Whoa, according to the news reports Ethan Hunt's family is from my (current) state of Wisconsin!
  • When Ethan is re-imagining the deaths of his team members, we see Sarah approach the gate and encounter Krieger holding the knife, but why would she get so close to the point where he could reach through and stab her? 
  • And How did Krieger get his knife back, considering Cruise found it at the scene of the crime? Although I suppose Krieger could have just gotten another one that was the same model.
  • "They stamped it, didn't they.  Those damn Gideons."  ~Phelps
  • The 10 million dollars is just a few pieces of paper with small bills printed on it and looks like play money, but then again I'm not an international criminal so maybe 10 million on the black market would really look like that.
  • Why does Jim shoot Claire but leave Ethan alive?  There's no way he would just leave Ethan like that, though granted you could say the same thing regarding just about every episode of MacGyver.
  • I'm not sure Ethan getting reinstated or Luther getting off the disavowed list would happen so quickly.  After all they did break into the CIA, commit a theft, and almost blow the identities of American agents around the world. 
  • We end things with a phenomenal closing credits remix!  

Final Analysis:
One of the best spy movies ever made, for sure in the top 5.  The plot is brilliant, the acting is flawless, and the production is excellent (including impressive stunt work at the aquarium and the CIA).  The last scene on the train left a little to be desired in terms of being fake-looking, but the rest of it was gritty and realistic (quite a departure from MI-4 and 5). And other than the dragging of Phelps' name through the mud, this film does a nice job of providing a fresh and modern take on the MI franchise while still paying homage to the original with the opening disk sequence, masks, team element, and of course the iconic theme song.

This movie is further unique in that there's comparatively little romance or fighting for a spy/action movie.  I'm not opposed to romance or fighting, but I think it speaks to the strength of the plot that they weren't necessary here.

I'll tell you right now that my movie rankings go exactly in the order that they were made, i.e. #1 is the pinnacle and each one declines a little bit from here (except for between 3 and 4 when things get a lot worse).  So stay tuned for more MI movie reviews, but first it's back to finish Season 1 of the 80's series! 


  1. I watched it about 18 years ago and enjoyed it but I don't remember much in the way of specifics and can't give a review.

  2. Finally went to my local library and rented the first "Mission: Impossible" movie this weekend. I watched the edited-for-network TV version around 1998 or 1999 and considering this movie didn't have much in the way of bad language or gory violence, I'm guessing what I saw then was pretty close to the original product. I remembered enjoyed the movie but not necessarily being blown away by it. I enjoyed it a lot watching it again today and appreciated that it was tight and concise.

    While I remembered the two primary action sequences of the film, I had forgotten the general story layout where the team was all killed in the opening 15 minutes and then Ethan Hunt was accused of being the mole. As you said, Cruise navigated the scenery well leading up to the disc retrieval in the secret room. That remains my favorite scene of the film because of its intensity. I remain a bit confused about the temperature having to stay within one degree or else the alarm would sound. If it was the room that needed to stay 72, what would make the room temp go up? Whatever the case, I like to think I'd have the presence of mind to know that if I walked into a room I'd realize there was a person hovering 10 feet above my head, but it certainly added to the drama. The additions of the rat in vent duct and the drop of sweat rolling down Ethan's glasses were nice touches to make the scene that much more exciting than similar scenes from other films featuring the same heist theme.

    After the heist, what was the point of Ethan's weird game of hide and seek with Kittridge with the two computer disks? I missed the context of that one. I enjoyed Ethan figuring out that Phelps was the mole but wasn't quite sure how he reached that conclusion? Simply because Kittridge was too busy to have accomplished the car bombing without assistance? I have mixed feelings on Phelps being the mole. On one hand, it was a twist that I would figure most viewers wouldn't see coming....but only because of the audaciousness of having the patriarch of the franchise being in cahoots with the bad guys. So it worked as a plot device...but betrayed the legacy of a storied franchise. At least it accomplished one feat of two though...defiling the legacy of Pete Thornton on the "MacGyver" reboot was in bad taste generally and wasn't even handled well as a plot device.

    The train scene in the finale was exciting, even if the CGI effects were a bit hokey. I remember being angry when I saw this because I wrote a script for my hypothetical future action show "Alex Burrows" in December 1995 that featured the character using his pocket magnet (this character's equivalent to MacGyver's SAK) to maneuver his way across the top of an airborne single-engine plan just as Phelps was doing across the top of the high-speed train....and even more agonizing for me, my story featured a helicopter going inside the Chunnel separating England and France. They totally stole my idea!!!! Two decades later, I've let go of my grief on that and was able to enjoy the ending. Pretty amazing how many different items there were for Ethan to keep a grip on atop that train though! The man must have had very sore wrists!!!

    As I said at the outset, I appreciated that the movie wrapped up in an hour and 45 minutes. One of my biggest issues with recent movies is the need to drag them out for 2 1/2 hours, which is a long sit for me. There's a place for more epic storytelling occasionally, but I prefer it when films tell a cleaner and more concise in less than two hours. Overall, a fun way to spend a couple of hours before the Winter Olympic games started this afternoon. I saw the library had MI:3 but didn't see the second one there. Maybe it was checked out....I'll have to see when I bring this one back.

    1. That's crazy that your script featured the same stunt as the end of the movie -- "Alex Burrows" was pretty ambitious for network television!

      You got the names mixed up -- Kittridge was the swarmy guy on Ethan's tail who ended up being a good guy, and Krieger is the guy you're thinking of. As for the disk switching sleight of hand, Krieger is about to leave with the real disk but Ethan plays around with him to show that he wouldn't actually leave the disk lying around (even though he really did), and then Krieger frustratingly throws it in the trash (not realizing it's the real disk).

      The main reason he begins to suspect Jim is that he finds that the Bible in the safehouse was stamped with Drake Hotel, and he remembers Jim mentioning that he stayed there recently. And he knows the mole communicates to the arms dealer with bible verses.

      I agree on Phelps. It doesn't bother me much emotionally because I didn't have a deep connection to the original show, but it's disrespectful those fans that did.

  3. Saw the first movie, witnessed the unnecessary character assassination of my hero and never, ever saw another MI movie, period.