Tom Cruise

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)

While Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t deliver much in the way of plot twists, it instead delivers a lot of easy smiles and a handful of good laughs. The easy smiles aren’t just for the action sequences, which often focus on characters’ reactions to them–sometimes relief, sometimes awe at Tom Cruise’s derring-do–but also for the chemistry. There’s not much in the way of character development in Rogue Nation (what does Ving Rhames do in his six months of retirement?), but the actors have a great time onscreen churning out the (relatively light) exposition and going through the espionage motions.

Rogue Nation opens with its biggest set piece–Cruise jumping on a cargo plane, which then takes off. Director (and writer) McQuarrie plays it for a nice combination of laughs and spectacle. Cruise’s sidekicks are all commenting on it, albeit sometimes from thousands of miles away. For the film’s first hour, McQuarrie relies on Simon Pegg for humor. Pegg doesn’t disappoint. After the first scene, it takes a while for Rhames to reappear, while Jeremy Renner (as the team’s permissive straight man) is a constant. First as the chiding presence, then as Cruise and company’s defender once CIA suit Alec Baldwin dismantles the IMF, making Cruise a fugitive.

Cruise is too busy hunting down an unknown villain–Sean Harris–who kidnapped him. Woman of mystery and ostensible Harris lackey Rebecca Ferguson helps free Cruise, just before he has to go on the run from Baldwin. Ferguson and Cruise’s scene, complete with complementary butt-kicking of Harris’s thugs, oozes with chemistry. It takes a while for Ferguson to return to the action; McQuarrie smartly doesn’t focus too much on Cruise–rather Pegg’s angle–because Cruise is… well… a little on snooze when Ferguson’s not present.

Eventually Cruise gets the band back together and travels from Vienna to Morocco to London while pursuing Harris and Ferguson. Baldwin’s after them (sort of) and Ferguson’s disavowed British agent subplot figures in as well. There’s a big car chase in Morocco, a shootout in the Vienna opera house, an underwater heist, and some attempts at plot twists in the U.K. McQuarrie’s set pieces for the third act are all a lot smaller than the ones before. He’s trying to wrap up the film with narrative not action, which is fine, but far from exciting. Particularly because, like I mentioned before… his plot twists aren’t particularly surprising. If they aren’t predictable, they’re entirely inconsequential. Rogue Nation constantly amuses, but never surprises.

It also leaves a couple big questions unanswered, just because they don’t matter once the plot points they’re supporting are resolved. McQuarrie can’t be bothered with anything even hinting at character development. Sometimes he just avoids it by cutting away from a scene and changing the narrative distance–Cruise will take over after a Ferguson solo scene, so her resolution in her own scene becomes a plot point in his new one. Or McQuarrie just forgets about something. It’s more frustrating when he forgets about it, because then it’s clear it never mattered in the first place.

Technically, the film’s excellent. Fine editing from Eddie Hamilton, good photography from Robert Elswit (except in the finale, where it just seems a little too artificial), decent music from Joe Kraemer. A lot of Rogue Nation‘s technical competences are just competences; they’re perfunctory. The film’s strengths are in the performances and the actors’ chemistries. Not just Ferguson and Cruise, but Cruise and Pegg, Cruise and Rhames, Cruise and Renner. Even Rhames and Renner, who do this odd couple schtick for about three minutes spread over a half hour or so. There’s not a lot to their interplay, but it’s damned amusing when they’re onscreen together.

And Harris is good as the odious villain. Rogue Nation sets him up as this terrorist mastermind, but doesn’t show any of the terror (good thing Cruise is really affecting when he’s passionate enough to yell). But when Harris is scheming or terrorizing Ferguson? He’s good. Understated. Maybe the only understated thing in the entire film.

Of the supporting good guys, Pegg’s best. He’s got the most to do. He’s even got the start of a character arc. Renner and Rhames are both fine. No heavy lifting, just easy smiles.

Cruise and Ferguson get the most screen time, with Ferguson getting more of the heavy lifting acting. Cruise has a little, but nothing compared to her. Just more than everyone else. Except–maybe–Pegg. And Cruise gets to do some straight humor scenes, which is nice. Unfortunately, McQuarrie hurries through them.

Baldwin’s in a glorified cameo. It ought to be stunt casting, but it’s hard to identify why it’s much of a stunt.

Rogue Nation is constantly entertaining and never challenging, never ambitious. McQuarrie’s direction is even, he toggles more than adequately between the various elements–humor, action, thriller, exposition–he just doesn’t shine at any of them. Except maybe the humor, which he eschews in the second half for the most part. He’s able to get away with some sincerity, however, thanks to Cruise and company. The actors are able to sell it.

The film’s a fine diversion. But it’s clear from the end of the first act it’s never going to particularly excel overall.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Joe Kraemer; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Dana Goldberg, David Ellison, and Don Granger; released by Paramount Pictures

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Sean Harris (Lane), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Jens Hultén (Vinter), Simon McBurney (Atlee), and Alec Baldwin (Hunley).


Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is two and a half hours of almost constant, continuous action. There’s an opening sequence to set things up–Tom Cruise botches a mission because he likes his sidekicks too much (and who wouldn’t like Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who make a fantastic pair in the film). He gets in dutch not with boss Alec Baldwin (who can barely maintain his man crush on Cruise) but with Angela Bassett, who’s the CIA boss. Cruise and company are IMF, which stands for Impossible Mission Force. Oddly, even though Henry Cavill (as Bassett’s CIA muscle who tags along to babysit Cruise) makes fun of the Mission: Impossible “let’s wear masks and pretend to be bad guys” thing, he doesn’t make fun of the Impossible Mission Force name.

Maybe writer (and director) McQuarrie only wanted to go so far with it.

So even though Cruise has botched the opening mission, Bassett’s willing to let him go off and try to save the world from rogue secret agents who want plutonium. Sadly they don’t need it to get 1.21 gigawatts, they need it to set off nuclear bombs and destabilize the world as we know it. As long as he takes Cavill along.

Bassett describes Cruise as a scalpel and Cavill as a hammer, but it’s more like Cruise is a hammer and Cavill is a jackhammer. Cavill towers over Cruise, making their scenes together in the first act all the more impressive because Cruise maintains the upper hand. Not hogging the screen acting-wise, but in terms of being the more dominating ideology. Cruise is a good secret agent, Cavill is an immaculately groomed thug. Cruise is fairly immaculate as well, but he gets dirty. Not too dirty; whoever was in charge of maintaining their hair during action scenes deserves some kind of special Oscar. Secret agents have great hair.

Pegg, Baldwin, and Bassett included. Rhames is shaved bald. And when British secret agent and former Cruise and company member Rebecca Ferguson shows up a little while into the film, she too has great hair. Only Sean Harris, as the villain, doesn’t have great hair. He’s wild and unkempt. He’s an ex-secret agent who wants to destroy the world. Cruise stopped him once and, in Fallout, now has to decide whether or not to potentially free Harris to get back that plutonium.

The film stays in Europe for most of the story, with the biggest sequences in Paris and London. The finale heads to rural Central Asia, where director McQuarrie proves just as adept at mounting phenomenal action sequences as he does in European metropolises. McQuarrie never lingers too long on landmarks, but he’s always aware of the architecture. There’s lots of Cruise in long shot, running through a building (or across the top of one) and great scenic backdrops. It’s charming. And always perfectly paced. McQuarrie’s direction, more than his script, more than any of the performances, makes Fallout. He gets the film set up, gets it moving, and runs it to the finish. He never races–Fallout’s pacing (especially for a two and a half hour movie) is outstanding. McQuarrie has some twists, but he’s also just got good plot developments.

He’s also able to use dream sequences–albeit ones with visions of nuclear destruction–to do a lot of Cruise’s character development. Though, really, Fallout doesn’t have much character development. Not for anyone else, anyway. Pegg’s got a tiny personal subplot about being more self-confident and Ferguson’s sort of got one but not really. Like Rhames doesn’t have any. Neither does Cavill. He’s there to be a foil. There’s not time for character development. There’s plutonium out there and Cruise’ll be damned if he’s going to let anyone get hurt.

All of Cruise’s dream sequence character development involves guilt over how he ruined ex-wife Michelle Monaghan’s life by being a secret agent, forcing her into hiding. Monaghan’s a memory in Fallout, someone offscreen in danger to give Cruise something constant to fret about. McQuarrie doesn’t give Cruise any angst to deal with, just the dream sequences haunting him. Harris haunts him too, because Harris knows Cruise too well. It’s impressive how well McQuarrie integrates it into the film since Fallout’s always moving. Even when Rhames has to tell Ferguson about Monaghan because Ferguson is sweet on Cruise and thinks Cruise might just be sweet on her, which leads to a lovely scene in Paris in a park. McQuarrie is sparing with the quiet moments, but they’re always exceptional. They’re so well-executed, technically speaking, it lets him get away with the script being a little saccharine.

Baldwin’s not the only one with a man crush on Cruise; McQuarrie’s pretty smitten too. Cruise isn’t just a good guy, he’s the only good guy who can save the world. It’d be eye-rolling if the film didn’t make such a successful argument for it.

All the acting is fine or better. Vanessa Kirby, as a blue blood heiress arms dealer, gets a little grating, but she’s an arms dealer. She’s not really supposed to be too sympathetic.

Cruise is good. He’s got some really fun moments, not just the action stuff, but also the action stuff. He and Ferguson’s gentle flirtation is likable, just like he and Cavill’s muted hostility is entertaining. Rhames and Pegg are both fun. Harris is a good villain. Cavill’s good, though probably has the worst character in the film. McQuarrie never quite gives him enough and sometimes too little. Especially in the third act. Same with Ferguson; she’s got her own subplot–aside from the Cruise crush–and McQuarrie kind of chucks it once she fully teams up with Cruise and company. Actually, there’s enough of a logic leap with her character… maybe some scene got cut.

On the technical side, Fallout’s excellent. Rob Hardy’s photography is good, Eddie Hamilton’s editing is great. Lorne Balfe’s score is quite good; he’s sparing when integrating the Lalo Schifrin theme and always right on when does (or doesn’t) use it.

Fallout’s a superior large-scale, stunt-filled, action picture. It’s more thrilling than ever a thriller–in the third act, even the good guys can’t really be in any life-threatening danger because franchise, McQuarrie is still able to make every moment rivet. Fallout is a spectacular action spectacle.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Tom Cruise, McQuarrie, Jake Myers, and J.J. Abrams; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Henry Cavill (Walker), Ving Rhames (Luther), Simon Pegg (Benji), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa), Vanessa Kirby (White Widow), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Alec Baldwin (Hunley), Angela Bassett (Sloan), Wes Bentley (Patrick), Liang Yang (Lark), Kristoffer Joner (Nils Debruuk), and Sean Harris (Solomon Lane).


Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman)

Edge of Tomorrow is high concept masquerading as medium concept… masquerading as mainstream high concept. The gimmick–Tom Cruise finds himself reliving every day as he goes into a battle against alien invaders–turns out not just to have a lot to do with the alien invaders, who director Liman almost entirely avoids, but also with how characters develop. Cruise spends a good deal of the movie building a relationship with fellow soldier Emily Blunt, but she doesn't build one with him.

The screenwriters–Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth–are fully aware of these narrative choices (at one point, during a sojourn from battle, some of them discreetly come up in dialogue). It adds to the oddness of the film, which Liman positions as a war film first, action movie second, sci-fi third. The opening invasion scenes, a futuristic envisioning of D-Day, are startling. Liman bombards the viewer with repeated violence–often the same violence literally repeated–while making each iteration more draining. There are a couple tricks in how the film follows Cruise's character through his experiences, but the draining effects of the battle sequence are always handled sincerely.

Cruise's character arc is most intensely transformative through the first half of the film, before the unexpected consequences of his condition become clear and the arc veers a little. He's perfect for the role and willingly gives up spotlight to Blunt, who's utterly phenomenal.

Good support from Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, excellent photography from Dion Beebe.

Tomorrow is assured, confident and quite successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Doug Liman; screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on a novel by Sakurazaka Hiroshi; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by James Herbert; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Erwin Stoff, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Gregory Jacobs and Jason Hoffs; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tom Cruise (Cage), Emily Blunt (Vrataski), Brendan Gleeson (General Brigham), Bill Paxton (Master Sergeant Farell), Jonas Armstrong (Skinner), Tony Way (Kimmel), Kick Gurry (Griff), Franz Drameh (Ford), Dragomir Mrsic (Kuntz), Charlotte Riley (Nance) and Noah Taylor (Dr. Carter).


Oblivion (2013, Joseph Kosinski)

There’s not much original about Oblivion. Most of the sci-fi elements are familiar, as are most of the plot twists; the unfamiliar ones play like sci-fi elements no one had been able to do before because the special effects were too expensive. None of that familiarity matters, however, thanks to director Kosinski and star Tom Cruise.

Kosinski is able to play each scene earnestly. It catches on; one gets so enthralled with the film–Cruise’s performance holds it all together, whether he’s running around fighting aliens or just sitting and listening to someone talk–the unoriginality doesn’t matter in the least.

Oh, and the music from M.8.3, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese is also essential. It’s a loud electronic score out of the eighties (but with modern sensibilities) and it makes each frame seem new.

The special effects are outstanding. The desolate Earth, the giant futuristic constructs… everything looks great. Kosinski does an outstanding job putting Cruise into these amazing environments too. Claudio Miranda’s photography is fantastic.

As for the supporting cast, it’s decent. Morgan Freeman’s not doing anything he hasn’t done before, but he’s solid. Olga Kurylenko is fine as the mystery woman who haunts Cruise. Her role’s underwritten and she suffers in comparison to Andrea Riseborough. Riseborough plays Cruise’s supervisor and love interest. She’s excellent.

Oblivion is a big, pseudo-smart sci-fi epic. It’s breezy and engaging. Cruise’s performance gives it some depth. Could it be deeper? Sure. But it doesn’t need to be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Kosinski; screenplay by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, based on a graphic novel written by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson; director of photography, Claudio Miranda; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by M.8.3, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese; production designer, Darren Gilford; produced by Kosinski, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine and Duncan Henderson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Jack), Morgan Freeman (Beech), Olga Kurylenko (Julia), Andrea Riseborough (Victoria), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sykes), Zoe Bell (Kara) and Melissa Leo (Sally).


Jack Reacher (2012, Christopher McQuarrie)

The first third of Jack Reacher is an elegantly told procedural, with director McQuarrie emulating a seventies cop movie. Of course, there are some garnishing, but nothing monumental. Tom Cruise’s cop is actually an ex-Army cop, it takes place in the twenty-first century (but I don’t think there’s a single computer turned on in the entire picture) and it’s a got an action movie finish. The finish is great–McQuarrie doesn’t give the violence flare, it’s all matter of fact. It knocks the movie’s quality down a little, but only because McQuarrie has to stop making a cop movie.

Technical standouts are Caleb Deschanel’s photography and Joe Kraemer’s music. Kraemer (until the last bit, when he’s just scoring action) does an amazing job. The music gives Reacher a lot of its personality, especially since the film often leaves Cruise in the first half to do other things.

Some of these other things involve Rosamund Pike, who I’ve never liked before but here is phenomenal, and Jai Courtney as a bad guy. Courtney’s good too. He doesn’t have a lot to do, but McQuarrie makes sure it’s all important. Same goes for Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo. They’re both great. And Alexia Fast is good too.

As for Cruise?

At the end of the big action finale, Cruise tells a bad guy about how he’s a badass. Maybe McQuarrie waited with the line because he had to know Cruise had earned it.

And Cruise (and Reacher) definitely earn it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on a novel by Lee Child; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Joe Kraemer; produced by Tom Cruise, Don Granger, Paula Wagner and Gary Levinsohn; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Reacher), Rosamund Pike (Helen), Richard Jenkins (Rodin), David Oyelowo (Emerson), Werner Herzog (The Zec), Jai Courtney (Charlie), Vladimir Sizov (Vlad), Joseph Sikora (Barr), Michael Raymond-James (Linsky), Alexia Fast (Sandy), Josh Helman (Jeb), James Martin Kelly (Rob Farrior), Dylan Kussman (Gary) and Robert Duvall (Cash).


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol might be a vanity project for producer-star Tom Cruise, but he sort of deserves it. His first scene features some athletics from him–the film’s full of them–and it’s hard to believe Cruise is nearly fifty. Either he’s got a portrait locked in a closet, they CG’ed his body or vitamins really are magic….

Ghost Protocol, silly title and all, is a fairly diverting espionage action thriller. With Michael Giacchino’s lush score, lots of gadgets and lots of globe trotting, it feels like a James Bond movie. Just an American one with an emphasis on teamwork.

For his first live action film, director Bird does an outstanding job. The film’s problems progressively get more outlandish, but he keeps them in check. Ghost Protocol is a comedy of errors. Nothing goes right; Bird keeps it moving fast enough one doesn’t think too hard.

And Ghost Protocol opens with silly opening titles showcasing later scenes in the movie. If Bird can recover from that lunacy, he can do almost anything.

His composition is strong–he fills the Panavision frame stylishly. It’s a great looking film, except when the CG composites don’t quite match.

Cruise is sturdy in the lead, but has nothing to do. He’s mostly just shepherding the team–Pegg’s blandly amusing and Jeremy Renner’s fine. The film’s best performance is easily from Paula Patton.

As the villain, Michael Nyqvist is terrible.

The conclusion’s just a setup for a reinvigorated franchise… likely an entertaining one.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Paula Patton (Jane Carter), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Michael Nyqvist (Kurt Hendricks), Vladimir Mashkov (Anatoly Sidorov), Samuli Edelmann (Wistrom), Ivan Shvedoff (Leonid Lisenker), Anil Kapoor (Brij Nath), Léa Seydoux (Sabine Moreau), Josh Holloway (Trevor Hanaway), Pavel Kríz (Marek Stefanski) and Miraj Grbic (Bogdan).


Rock of Ages (2012, Adam Shankman)

Rock of Ages is middling. With a better script and better lead actors, it would likely be much improved. Female lead Julianne Hough gives an okay performance, but her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Male lead Diego Boneta can sing, he just can’t act. Their romance, the ostensible central story of Ages, is annoying.

The film’s salient feature is Tom Cruise. Playing a has-been rock star who finds a little redemption, Cruise is fantastic. He finds the humor of the persona, but also the humanity behind it. Once he shows up, Ages becomes about waiting for him to show up again.

The film also tracks the story of club owner Alec Baldwin and his Friday, Russell Brand. The script writes them a bunch of bad jokes, but they still succeed. They’re clearly having a lot of fun.

Also having fun is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, out to shut Baldwin down. She does a great job; even though her character’s intentionally unlikable (Ages probably won’t play well in Oklahoma, for instance), she’s a delight.

As Cruise’s agent, Paul Giamatti is good, but he’s not trying very hard. He lets his fake ponytail do the heavy lifting. Malin Akerman manages to be lifeless, but not bad. The only other bad performance is Mary J. Blige; her singing’s great though.

Director Shankman does all right. Emma E. Hickox’s editing is lousy, which doesn’t help things.

Ages is often a lot of fun. The great Cruise performance helps.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Shankman; screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, based on the musical book by D’Arienzo; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Emma E. Hickox; music by Adam Anders and Peer Åström; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant, Carl Levin, Tobey Maguire, Scott Prisand, Shankman and Matt Weaver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Julianne Hough (Sherrie Christian), Diego Boneta (Drew Boley), Russell Brand (Lonny), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree), Paul Giamatti (Paul Gill), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Patricia Whitmore), Bryan Cranston (Mike Whitmore), Malin Akerman (Constance Sack), Mary J. Blige (Justice Charlier) and Tom Cruise (Stacee Jaxx).


Knight and Day (2010, James Mangold), the extended cut

Cameron Diaz only gets to be unbearably obnoxious–her usual persona–when Tom Cruise is off screen during Knight and Day, which, luckily, isn’t often. Amusingly, Cruise’s absence coincides with supporting cast member Maggie Grace’s principal scene and seeing her and Diaz together is chilling… Attack of the content-less blondes.

Luckily, Cruise is around for most of the film and he makes it a breezy, amusing experience. There are a few concepts at play–it’s a James Bond movie told from the perspective of the good Bond girl, it’s Cruise slightly aping the Mission: Impossible franchise, but mostly it’s just seeing what a movie star can do. I find most of Cruise’s work post-Risky Business and pre-Magnolia to be unbearable (the male Cameron Diaz?), but Knight shows, whatever the hiccups, he’s a movie star and, thankfully, still able to turn in a good performance.

It’s unfortunate it’s not in a better script with a better director (Mangold’s reliance on awful-looking CG composites for action scenes is inexplicable), but couch-jumping has its costs.

Besides Paul Dano, who’s great in a small but essential role, the supporting cast is surprisingly weak. Peter Sarsgaard has a lousy accent, Viola Davis can’t figure out how to play a terribly written role… Marc Blucas is barely in the film, but he gives one of the better performances.

A lot of Knight and Day plays like Romancing the Stone, only less charming (Diaz is most appealing when playing drunk).

It’s up to Cruise to carry it and he does.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; written by Patrick O’Neill; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Quincy Z. Gunderson and Michael McCusker; music by John Powell; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad, Todd Garner and Steve Pink; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Cruise (Roy Miller), Cameron Diaz (June Havens), Peter Sarsgaard (Fitzgerald), Jordi Mollà (Antonio), Viola Davis (Director George), Paul Dano (Simon Feck), Falk Hentschel (Bernhard), Marc Blucas (Rodney), Lennie Loftin (Braces) and Maggie Grace (April Havens).


Mission: Impossible III (2006, J.J. Abrams)

After two asinine outings, Tom Cruise finally figured out how to get a Mission: Impossible to work. There’s an actual story–the viewer’s engagement with the plot doesn’t revolve around one’s appreciation of Tom Cruise and his frequent grin. The difference is in Cruise himself. He’s no longer charming the women aged twelve to fifty-two in the audience, he’s widened his scope–he’s trying to present an affable lead… to everyone. It’s amazing how little the film needs to engender some real concern for the character. Give him a girlfriend, a pre-exisiting girlfriend–does wonders. Throw in Ving Rhames putting his foot in his mouth while talking about the girlfriend. Rhames and Cruise, after two chemistry-free occasions, finally work well together. They’re finally believable as friends… or friendly acquaintances. Again, all seems to be Cruise.

There’s the other development–a personable team. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers don’t exactly have a major part in the film, but there’s a definite sense they work together and know each other. It’s a very welcome feel, since Mission: Impossible kind of suggests them having a team. It changes the kinds of stunts Cruise gets to do–he still gets to run a lot and there’s a motorcycle sequence–but having to involve his teammates… I don’t know if it makes Mission: Impossible III more possible (there’s a lot of silliness, down to the secret underground base), but it makes the concept a little easier on the senses. Instead of whacking the viewer’s cognitive reasoning centers with a two by four, it’s a more acceptable amount of disbelief the film’s requesting suspended.

J.J. Abrams and crew present a rather simple spy plot–it’d work, easily, for a James Bond, a Lethal Weapon or even a Die Hard (all, obviously, with significant changes)–and do it well. It doesn’t really matter if this one’s a sequel to the other two Mission: Impossible movies. It’s a spy getting married movie, they’ve made these for a long time. Cruise works–and works quite well with love interest Michelle Monaghan. Monaghan and Cruise have a really great scene–one where Abrams’s directorial abilities come through–and Monaghan’s just too good for this kind of material… and she can even pretend she doesn’t know it.

Cruise assembled a great supporting cast–Laurence Fishburne (in the kind of role he should have been doing for years), Billy Crudup, Simon Pegg and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman should have been playing the cooly evil villain for years–he excels at it. The scenes where he’s playing Tom Cruise playing Philip Seymour Hoffman are comic gems.

It isn’t just Abram’s story–he put together a great crew. Daniel Mindel’s a fine cinematographer–Mission: Impossible III has a bunch of CG composites and the lighting is never off, which is a not insignificant achievement. The music–by Michael Giacchino–is fantastic. It’s never bombastic (like a composer I’ve actually heard of) and occasionally feels like cheap TV music–a perfect match for Mission: Impossible.

Given the first two movies, it’s hard to believe III even has a chance. But, almost immediately, it’s a fine diversion. It just gets better throughout, even pulling a couple nice saves throughout (especially at the end).

Abrams is an impressive feature director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Ving Rhames (Luther), Billy Crudup (Musgrave), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan), Keri Russell (Lindsey Farris), Maggie Q (Zhen), Simon Pegg (Benji), Eddie Marsan (Brownway) and Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel).


Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Writing about Magnolia seems a daunting prospect (I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of the film). Following the prologue, which one could (or could not) see as a way to ease the viewer into the genre–the multi-character, all connected genre (Magnolia‘s got to be the best of the genre… I can’t think of any other serious competitors–Anderson’s taken what started as Altman’s genre and did it better than Altman ever could, thanks to Anderson’s post-modernist sensibilities)–the following occurred to me: it’s too dense. Magnolia is, quite possibly, the densest motion picture ever made. The film takes place over–roughly–twenty-four hours, with a lot of emphasis put on an afternoon period between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. These two hours take place in about an hour and a half of screen time, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Why Tom Cruise gives his attendees lunch so late is never explained, though I’m sure Anderson has an explanation.

The film cuts between stories, often picking up exactly where it left off when it returns. It’s never made clear if the viewer is missing something, but the film certainly implies concurrent events are taking place and the order Anderson assigns to them are his choice.

I don’t know how to talk about this film. I can write a couple paragraphs about the acting (and probably will). I could do another list paragraph about the character relationships–Jason Robards and Philip Seymour Hoffman, for instance, have a couple amazing scenes together (Robards’s performance kind of ties Magnolia together for the people, while John C. Reilly’s performance ties it together the viewer). What else could I talk about? The direction–Anderson’s fantastic. He gets real showy at the beginning with an intricate montage–it’s almost like the first act set to music (before the title card, I think)–where the viewer gets all the information he or she is going to need to get going. There are some more great montages later, usually set to Aimee Mann’s songs–and, of course, the montage with the cast singing along with her song, which breaks the fourth wall and firmly establishes Anderson as the last son of Krypton–but they’re not as narratively dense as that first montage. It establishes the ground situation and acts as the dramatic vehicle. It’s a speedy move. All of Magnolia, all three hours of it, is actually a speedy move.

But Anderson isn’t just a visual director. The performances he gets out of his cast are so amazing, they frequently risk drawing the viewer off the celluloid to contemplate the filmmaking process. Especially with Robards and Cruise. The performance Anderson gets out of Cruise is singular–it engages Cruise’s movie star status while ignoring it. Again, something one can’t really discuss with any brevity. Even as good as those performances are–and one of those two gives the film’s best performance–the most impressive performance is Julianne Moore’s. While Melora Walters is in a constant state of anguish (as is William H. Macy), it’s Moore who talks about all of it. Almost all of her scenes are confessions; there’s a whole lot of explaining going on. It’s the kind of role where it looks easy, but it’s near impossible–the viewer has to ignore the information her dialogue produces immediately, instead concentrating on why she’s saying it. Her scene with Michael Murphy is one of the film’s best.

There’s a great scene where Anderson tricks the viewer. There are probably a lot of them where he tricks the viewer, actually, but I’m thinking about the one where the viewer is thinking Cruise is going to soften. It’s with Cruise the film transcends, in fact. About halfway through, he has this delivery and it’s the moment where Magnolia rises above all others. The film’s density isn’t even novel-like. It’s a film, through and through, which makes Anderson’s achievement all the greater.

Anderson has a way of drawing the supporting cast as caricatures (almost the inverse of what he does in Boogie Nights)–Felicity Huffman, Ricky Jay, Alfred Molina, even April Grace as the reporter who interviews Cruise for a significant portion of the film–these people are outside the Eye of Anderson, which defines their humanity. Even Michael Bowen–as Jeremy Blackman’s show-dad–escapes a little. Or Anderson cracks through the judgment. I need to explain–Anderson presents the entire main cast free of any judgment, which is at times difficult (Reilly ignoring information he desperately needs out of his unacknowledged racism). The supporting cast comes prejudged–they aren’t chia pets. The three hours the viewer spends with the film lets he or she judge the characters–with almost all of these judgments coming down in the film’s third act (with an exception or two). It defines why these characters are worth caring about, why they’re worth the investment of time and emotion.

At one point, with Cruise at Robards’s bedside, the film reaches an emotional boiling over (I’m observing the temperature based on my own tears). Cruise grasps his hands together and presses in an attempt to bottle in the emotion and cannot maintain. That action sums up the film itself.

But Magnolia‘s actually something of an upper. Anderson drags humanity into a mud bath and beats it with a stick for three hours, but he’s still a fan.

It’s a peerless film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Jon Brion; songs by Aimee Mann; production designers, William Arnold and Mark Bridges; produced by Anderson and JoAnne Sellar; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Jeremy Blackman (Stanley Spector), Tom Cruise (Frank T.J. Mackey), Melinda Dillon (Rose Gator), April Grace (Gwenovier), Luis Guzman (Luis Guzman), Philip Baker Hall (Jimmy Gator), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Phil Parma), Ricky Jay (Burt Ramsey), William H. Macy (Quiz Kid Donnie Smith), Alfred Molina (Solomon Solomon), Julianne Moore (Linda Partridge), Michael Murphy (Alan Kligman, esq.), John C. Reilly (Jim Kurring), Jason Robards (Earl Partridge), Melora Walters (Claudia Wilson), Michael Bowen (Rick Spector), Henry Gibson (Thurston Howell), Felicity Huffman (Cynthia), Emmanuel L. Johnson (Dixon), Don McManus (Dr. Landon), Eileen Ryan (Mary) and Danny Wells (Dick Jennings).


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