Movie Review

Mission: Impossible

Expect the Impossible
Mission: Impossible Movie Poster

US Release Date: 05-22-1996

Directed by: Brian De Palma


  • Tom Cruise
  • Ethan Hunt
  • Jon Voight
  • Jim Phelps
  • Emmanuelle Beart
  • Claire Phelps
  • Henry Czerny
  • Eugene Kittridge
  • Jean Reno
  • Franz Krieger
  • Ving Rhames
  • Luther Stickell
  • Kristin Scott Thomas
  • Sarah Davies
  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Max
  • Emilio Estevez
  • Jack Harmon
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: February 11th, 2012
Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible

Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible starts with a jovial mood, but quickly changes tone.  The members of the elite squad of undercover agents joke and tease each other before and during their mission in Prague.   Things change dramatically when the agents start getting killed, leaving a very humorless Ethan Hunt on the run.

The rest of Mission Impossible is an action packed, tense ride through a labyrinth of deceit and mystery.  Hunt must run for his life as he tries to figure out the reason for the betrayal, and who was responsible for it.  This begins with one of several now classic scenes.  Hunt sits across from a contact, who says to him, "I understand you're very upset." Hunt responds through gritted teeth, "Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset."

Of course the most memorable scene is when Hunt breaks into CIA Headquarters.  This involves him lowering himself by cable where the stress gets to him to the point that he sweats.  Earlier he described the three security hurdles, "The third one is on the floor, and it's pressure sensitive. Just the slightest increase in weight will set it off."  Thus, even a bead of sweat would give him away.

The film climaxes on a speeding train, both inside and out.  With all that came before, this final adrenaline rush certifies Mission Impossible as one of the best action films of the 1990s. 

In 1996, at the age of 34, Tom Cruise was the biggest movie star in the world.  I was struck by how young and boyish he looks here compared to Ghost Protocol.  Besides aging gracefully, Cruise has also grown as an actor.  He is always good in the action scenes, but some of his line readings have definitely gotten better with age. 

One thing that has always bugged me about the rest of the Mission Impossible films is that they play too much with the classic television theme song.  Here it stays much closer to the original.  Speaking of the show, Peter Graves was offered the role of Jim Phelps, that he originated, but turned down the part due to how the character would be treated.

Like the television show, Mission Impossible stretches the imagination of believability, but plays it all straight, making for a great film from start to finish.  I particularly noted how the government arrests Hunt's mother and uncle with trumped up charges and has the media report it as Gospel.  I guess parts of this film are more believable than we know.

Reviewed on: February 12th, 2012
Vanessa Redgrave as Max in Mission: Impossible.

Vanessa Redgrave as Max in Mission: Impossible.

Mission: Impossible remains - after more than 15 years and 3 sequels - the best entry in the franchise. It has the right blend of action and intrigue and a stellar cast. Like Eric I noticed and appreciated the traditional arrangement of the theme song, which calls to mind the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not sure why they feel the need to change this iconic piece of music for each new movie.

I also noticed just how boyish Cruise looks and I agree about his overly dramatic line readings in a few scenes. “Wake up, Claire! Jim's dead! He's dead! They're all dead!” His characterization as Ethan Hunt is the one thing that has improved over the intervening years. The plot, like all the subsequent films, is a bit convoluted but that is part of its charm.

The impressive cast features several standouts. An unbilled Emilio Estevez meets a gruesome end early in the movie. Kristin Scott Thomas brings a bit of class to her rather small role as fellow agent Sarah Davies. Jean Reno adds a full-bodied European flavor as the rough-around-the-edges Franz Krieger. He shares the movie’s tensest, and most famous, scene with Cruise as they break into CIA headquarters. The regal Vanessa Redgrave fairly drips with gravitas in her role as arms-dealer Max. “Anonymity... is like a warm blanket.” She easily steals her scenes with Cruise away from him, while bringing out his best acting at the same time.

Longtime fans of the television series were appalled at the way the revered Jim Phelps was characterized. Peter Graves, who originated the part, turned it down after reading the script. The fact that he is played by Jon Voight instead makes him seem like someone else anyway.

It’s worth noting that each installment in the series has been helmed by a different person. In order, the Mission: Impossible movies have been directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. De Palma and Bird have been the most successful of the group but I give a slight edge to De Palma with this first of Ethan Hunt’s impossible missions.

Reviewed on: February 12th, 2012
Tom Cruise keeps audiences dangling in anticipation as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible.

Tom Cruise keeps audiences dangling in anticipation as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible.

The producers of the Mission Impossible series of movies demonstrate a patience that is quite rare in Hollywood. All of them have been financially successful and yet the shortest interval between installments is the four years between this one and the sequel. It would be another six years until MI:3 and then five more until MI:4. These longer than usual gaps coupled with the use of different and distinctive directors has kept the series fresh and interesting, while at the same time maintaining the elements that mark each one as a Mission Impossible film, continuing the traditions set forth in the original series and this original movie.

Having read both of your reviews, I was prepared to see a much younger Tom Cruise and yet I was still shocked at just how boyish he looks. This is of course partly because Cruise has aged 15 years since, but also because in 1996 I was 7 years younger than Ethan Hunt in this film, while today, I am now 8 years older than him.

Cruise isn't the only thing to have changed in the past 15 years. The technology is also quite dated. Floppy disk drives, chunky CRT monitors, dial-up modems and Usenet groups are some of the technologies used in the film that mark it as old. And Hunt's method of sending emails to Job demonstrates that the screenwriters didn't really understand how it worked yet.

I never watched either version of the Mission Impossible television series which might be why it never bothered me that they've updated the theme music several times over the series. While the original theme is heard throughout this installment, over the end credits you can hear a modern reworking of it. I do understand why Peter Graves wouldn't want to portray this version of Jim Phelps. Imagine the fan backlash if the makers of the James Bond films decided to make M betray Bond!

The plot is convoluted and not without its holes. The most famous scene in the film is the one you mentioned Eric, where they break into CIA headquarters to steal data. However, since they never really intend to sell the data, but only pretend to, why must they steal it? Why can't they just fake it? Max doesn't know what the data looks like.  If she knew the names on the list then she wouldn't need the list after all. And in regards to the famous dangling scene, why on earth would the designers of the security to the computer room include a vent large enough for a man to get through? And instead of all the lasers, pressure plates and temperature detectors, couldn't they just set an alarm to go off whenever someone touched the keyboard? Or why not simply station a guard inside the room?

To be fair, this installment is no more guilty of implausibility than any of the later films. All of them contain action pieces and plot devices that you just have to accept at face value. Cruise as Ethan Hunt, carries the audience along from action set piece to action set piece, keeping you on the edge of your seat, distracting you from the plot holes like a magician by diverting your eye from them. You might think back and notice them, but while you're watching you're too busy enjoying yourself to care.

I disagree Patrick that this is the best of the impossible missions. I would still award that honor to MI:4, but this one is a close second.

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