Mission: Impossible (1996) Review

Mission: Impossible (1996) Director: Brian De Palma


Mission Impossible is the movie that cemented Tom Cruise as the top box office action star of our time. Directed by “New Hollywood” director Brian de Palma of Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987) fame, Mission Impossible surprisingly employs a variety of remarkable techniques borrowed from the crime/noir/heist films despite being a 1990s blockbuster espionage flick. It is based on the original Cold War era Mission Impossible television show that initially aired on CBS from 1966-1973.

The film opens with callbacks to the television series –a heist operation underway with a shocking unmasking reveal, explosive chewing gum, and a fuse being lit to the tune of Argentine composer’s Lalo Schifrin iconic Mission Impossible theme song (played in 5/4 time signature by composer Danny Elfman who scored the film). The plot of Mission Impossible is a bit difficult to follow but in essence an “Impossible Missions Force” (IMF) operation goes awry in Kiev as the team tries to stop a double-crossing agent from releasing the CIA’s “non official cover” list (or NOC list). Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) realizes the operation has been compromised when his boss Jim Phelps (Jon Voight -Phelps is the only character from the television series) is murdered, perhaps from within the agency, so Hunt disappears (bear in mind, this film was released prior to the Bourne series which uses the same plot device). The CIA suspects Hunt of being the mole so the rogue agent pays a visit to an arms dealer known as “Max” (Vanessa Redgrave) who is searching for the NOC list. Hunt makes a deal to retrieve the list for her in exchange for $10M. He then employs the work of a computer hacker and is associate, played by Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, as they covertly infiltrate a top secret room in Langley housing a computer with protective files (amusingly, the files are transferred via a now outdated floppy disk). There is a terrific scene in which the camera tells us what actually happened at the botched operation in Kiev as unt pieces together the puzzle. Hunt arranges for a dramatic hand-off of the files to Max aboard a moving train which leads to double-crossing and the revelation that Jim Phelps is alive and was the mole all along (unsurprisingly Jon Voight’s character was the traitor). After exposing the plot, Ethan Hunt is reluctantly reinstated back at IMF and in the end he is seated on a plane when a hostess assigns him his next coded mission.

Mission Impossible is a fun action thriller, but far and away the best scene in the film occurs in the highly intense Langley break-in which finds Tom Cruise suspended high above the floor, careful not to make any sudden movements, noises, or temperature shifts, as he successfully steals the CIA NOC list from a central computer and escapes without so much as a drop of sweat hitting the highly sensitized floor panels. Needless to say the film was a smash hit success upon release, and Tom Cruise never so much as fired a weapon in this film (Brian De Palma preferred to let the characters use their intelligence and gadgets rather than simply resorting to a shoot-out). Interestingly enough, Mission Impossible seems to have bucked the trend of contemporary Hollywood re-hashes –the latter Mission Impossible films (including Mission Impossible 6: Fallout) are often more highly praised than the earlier installments.

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