The Critic's Corner

August 10-16, 2015

Best. Mission. Yet.

By David Laprad

I’d like to tell you a story about a film that made me cry.

It wasn’t “E.T.” I didn’t shed a single tear when everyone’s favorite candy-munching alien hugged Elliott goodbye. I might have snickered, though.

It wasn’t “Titanic.” Did anyone not see the end of that movie coming?

It wasn’t “The Notebook,” either, and I wondered why. When the elderly Noah and Allie passed gently into that good night, I should have cried, but I didn’t.

But fear not, dear reader; my heart is not made of ice. For at the end of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” without caring who saw, I cupped my face in my hands and wept softly.

I didn’t cry tears of sorrow. Yes, Tom Cruise is 53, and at 51, I don’t look nearly as good as he does. (If I did, I’d burn all of my shirts.) But knowing this didn’t make me weep.

Rather, I cried tears of joy. Not only had the level of skill demonstrated in every aspect of the production wowed me, it was clear that people with a deep love of film had made “Rogue Nation.”

How else to explain the script, a masterwork of intelligent plotting by writer and director Christopher McQuarrie? There isn’t an errant or poorly written line of dialogue in the film, nor did McQuarrie waste his time and ours on building a baffling web of double- and triple-crosses. Rather, he developed his characters through their actions, and then kept us guessing about their true allegiances. I’m thinking specifically about Ilsa Faust, a disavowed British agent who might or might not be a member of a terrorist organization known as the Syndicate. Even better, the story has the interlocking complexity of a Swiss watch, but is never confusing.

How else also to explain McQuarrie’s direction? From shot composition to editing, every scene in this movie is woven as tightly as a Persian rug. I especially loved the elaborate sequence set during a performance in the Vienna State Opera House. It builds slowly and deliberately, with Hitchcockian purpose, as Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, fends off a Syndicate thug while trying to stop a political assassination. The suspense reaches a fever pitch when he realizes there’s not one, but there are two assassins, neither of which is aware of the presence of the other one.

McQuarrie didn’t settle on a single note for the entire film, either. After the nail-digging tension of the opera house sequence and another scene that takes place underwater, he delivers a turbo-charged car and motorcycle chase to end all car and motorcycle chases. While McQuarrie used computer graphics during a stretch down a crowded highway, most of the stunt work was filmed using real cars driven by real people on real streets. The scene has the quality of a well-choreographed ballet, with shot building upon shot, and stunt building upon stunt, until the sudden and jarring final shot.

And how else to explain what Cruise achieved as an actor? He didn’t just immerse himself in his performance, he threw himself headlong and recklessly into it, making an already great film a modern action masterpiece.

Not only does Cruise sell every scene in which he was called upon to simply act, but he performed most (if not all) of his stunts live. Have you seen the trailer, where Hunt clings to the side of an ascending airplane? That was done for real, with Cruise strapped to the side of an ascending airplane. “To hell with blue screen, I want to make sure the insurance people don’t sleep until we’re done filming,” I can hear him telling McQuarrie. Equally impressive is his work in the underwater sequence I mentioned earlier, during which he held his breath for six minutes.

“Best. Mission. Yet. Beats Bond. Beat Die Hard. Beats all. Tom Cruise is THE man!” I posted on the Hamilton County Herald’s Twitter page after wiping the tears from my eyes. “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” is not just the best movie of the summer, or the best movie of the year so far, it’s a film that will forever be spoken of in the same revered tones as “The French Connection,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Die Hard,” and other venerated movies made by people working at the height of their creative abilities.

It’s also quite a tear-jerker.

Four stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action, violence, and partial nudity.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.