A SCENIC VIEW
To say Ethan Hunt of “Mission: Impossible” is a resourceful man is like saying water is wet. A spy is nothing if not quick, cunning and pro-active, and the A-types like Ethan are so appealing when at their best – doing their dangerous dirty work for queen and country, or in Ethan’s case, for president and country. In anticipation of the July 31 release of "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation," I'm reflecting on one of my favorite scenes from the "Mission: Impossible" franchise.
What I like best about Hunt is how methodical he is. So many people are mesmerized by the action sequences, which are spectacular, but I care more about the cerebral aspects of “the game.” That is why the first “Mission: Impossible” (1996), directed by Brian DePalma, is my favorite. It is the most thoughtful film of the franchise, filled with the most mind games and compelling characters like Max, played with relish by Vanessa Redgrave, and rogue operative Krieger, played by Jean Reno. Some fans and critics complained that it was overly complicated, but it’s a criticism that seems silly nearly 20 years later when you compare its plot with other action thrillers. I would also argue that it has rather plausible scenarios for a spy film apart from that ridiculous, but riveting final action sequence with the helicopter in the train tunnel.
The most thrilling aspect of these kinds of films is the execution of “the great plan” – and this film’s scenes of discussing and executing a master plan rival any ever shot in terms of bravado and suspense. It begins with Ethan pitching his plan to the people he needs to execute it.
Ethan has been disavowed from his spy agency, the IMF, because they believe he is a mole who has betrayed the agency, which is revealed in a great scene early in the film between Ethan and the head of the IMF played by Henry Czerny (“Kittredge, you’ve never seen me very upset.”). Claire, one of Ethan’s original team members played by Emmanuelle Béart, has joined him in recruiting a new team – just two more people – to pull a job that will enable Ethan to negotiate with the true mole and ideally bring him or her to justice.
Because they were operating outside of the IMF, Ethan and Claire had to pick people who are also disavowed – ex-operatives from the agency. They went with slick computer hacker Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames, and Krieger, the gruff, all-around handy guy who can get things and fly helicopters into tight places.
The quintessential scene in the movie is the vault scene – when Ethan is dangling in mid-air in a strategically secured vault at CIA headquarters trying to obtain the top secret file he needs to get out of the trouble he is in and potentially save the lives of all IMF undercover agents (by putting them at risk). But my favorite scene is the one that precedes the CIA headquarters shenanigans – the scene when Ethan describes their objective in his efforts to convince Luther and Krieger to do the job. It is a simple objective that requires a clever and meticulous plan to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds – that’s the formula. And you have to have a character like Ethan Hunt played by the pre-eminent superstar of his generation Tom Cruise to exude the confidence, charisma and, of course, skill to make the audience root for them to get the job done.
It is tightly shot in a train compartment with Ethan and Claire sitting across from Luther and Krieger as Ethan drops one devastating piece of news after another – we have to break into CIA headquarters, the vault we have to enter has temperature and pressure sensors and requires a code key we won’t have … It’s thrilling to hear him list everything they are up against as matter-of-factly as if he was describing how to change a tire and to see the expressions and utterances of shock and disbelief on Luther and Krieger’s faces as if they were watching a train wreck.
Yet with all the confidence of an A-type who knows he has planned everything to perfection, as well as wonderfully wry humor employed for good measure, Ethan convinces the guys to come along for the ride and assures them of their eventual success. When he says, “We’re going to do it,” at the end of the scene, he leaves no room for doubt. And when the “Mission: Impossible” theme kicks in right after his line and the scene shifts to Langley, Va., the excitement is all about seeing how they’re going to do it – not if.