Aside from the vault set piece, which is rightly renowned in the world of action cinema, Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible is a dated, convoluted, and lackluster affair. It is also much more subdued than the subsequent installments, with the plot (involving Ethan Hunt double crossed and fingered as a mole inside the CIA) falling much more in “espionage drama” territory than “action thriller.” Pity then, that the script is quite stodgy, with much of the dialogue falling flat and feeling plain dated.
Tom Cruise, who was vaulted into superstar status with the film, is visibly weaker here than in later installment. Perhaps due to the fact that, in 1996, his boyish looks have not yet faded, giving the whole performance an ingenuous air – “charming” comes off as cocky. Cruise is still quite good in comparison with much of the supporting cast, aside from Jon Voight, who I thought was quite good as Ethan’s handler. It’s also nice to see Ving Rhames, a series regular. Normally I focus little on acting in action films, but Mission: Impossible‘s heavy dose of drama unfortunately forced me to take a harder look.
All of these aspects are unfortunate given De Palma’s consistency behind the camera. Mission: Impossible looks great, and much of the aforementioned vault sequence’s tension is created by inventive camera work. It’s clear De Palma is having a blast with the action, I just wish there was more of it to fill in the large holes created by the acting and screenplay. Much of the film feels like a build up, and even the set pieces meant to provide relief never quite explode in the cathartic way the best actioners do. The finale, which sees Hunt scaling the outside of a speeding train, is the prime example of this. It is thrilling for a moment, but ultimately devolves into a tired hostage situation in a single compartment. Normally there is nothing wrong with small scope, but Mission: Impossible wants the best of both worlds, and can’t seem to decide what sort of film it wants to be. Its stakes are high, but it ultimately fails to deliver the drama or action thrills to support those stakes. A few sequences aside, this is very vanilla, and very dated.
★★½ out of 5