Nearly thirty years ago, Tom Cruise accepted the mission of entertaining audiences worldwide as the then-nascent IMF agent, Ethan Hunt, in Brian De Palma’s 1996 film Mission: Impossible. Since then, the world and the Mission: Impossible franchise have changed substantially, but one thing has remained irrevocably true: Tom Cruise’s undying commitment to cinematic storytelling.
TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
5. The Story
Initially scheduled to film just as the pandemic hit in 2020, had Dead Reckoning Part One maintained its initially slated release window, its story almost certainly would have been met with accusations of veering the franchise into a more science-fiction-oriented direction. But in 2023, amid the WGA writers’ strike, on the precipice of a SAG-AFTRA strike, and in the ever-rising, looming shadow of A.I. and its wide-ranging ramifications on our world as a whole, no other film this year is destined to feel quite as prescient or timely as this film does.
McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen deliver a story that sees Ethan Hunt and his team grappling with the presence of A.I. as an antagonistic force in a very real, palpable way. As A.I. swallows every ounce of digital information it can consume into its insatiable maw and regurgitates it as faux-original thought, Dead Reckoning Part One is about fighting for the beauty and art of human originality.
Top Gun: Maverick (which featured McQuarrie as a co-writer) dealt with a similar existential threat on a subtextual level. Here, that looming threat has escalated to full-fledged text, with Cruise and McQuarrie tackling it head-on. The results are stupendously effective and profoundly affecting.
4. New Additions
Every Mission: Impossible film invariably sees new additions to the cast, whether friendly or antagonistic. With its gargantuan story, Dead Reckoning Part One has more returning characters than any previous film as well as a multitude of new characters. Franchise-supporting mainstays such as Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg are all as wonderful as ever, but it is the new additions whose vigorous glee is outright contagious.
Specifically, Hayley Atwell as Grace, Pom Klementieff as Paris, and Shea Whigham as Briggs are all astounding screen presences who enter the often labryinthian world of the Mission: Impossible franchise with gusto. Atwell is tremendously captivating as pick-pocket Grace who accidentally gets sucked into the IMF’s latest mission, Klementieff is ludicrously fun to watch as she chews all of the scenery in a sincerely unnerving and unequivocally joyful villainous performance, and Whigham, who has long been a scene-stealer through his dry charm and wit, is a pitch-perfect antagonist to Hunt’s sincerity.
3. Lorne Balfe’s Score and Eddie Hamilton’s Editing
Let’s talk about two of the most important secret ingredients that have come to define the ever-evolving, ever-heightening cinematic storytelling ventures of Cruise and McQuarrie: Lorne Balfe and Eddie Hamilton.
While Mission: Impossible films have always featured great, iconic composers, Lorne Balfe’s inclusion in Fallout yielded stupefying results. His harmonic, bombastic, percussive, and symphonic sensibilities perfectly synchronized with McQuarrie’s filmmaking, and Balfe has become a mainstay ever since. Balfe lent his talents to Top Gun: Maverick and is now doing some of the best work of his career here, in Dead Reckoning Part One.
Simultaneously, editor Eddie Hamilton has become one of Cruise and McQuarrie’s go-to visual collaborators. First coming aboard for Rogue Nation, Hamilton has edited every Mission: Impossible since, as well as scoring an Oscar nomination for his impeccable work on Top Gun: Maverick. Dead Reckoning Part One. Hamilton and McQuarrie’s visual work delivers a distinctly different tone and pace than prior entries, innovating every step of the way.
2. McQuarrie’s Direction
Much like he did when he initially came on board the franchise with Rogue Nation, Dead Reckoning Part One sees McQuarrie utilizing the history of the Mission: Impossible franchise as a foundation upon which he can erect work that scales to new heights.
Working alongside cinematographer Fraser Taggart, McQuarrie delivers work that is markedly different from his own visual language in prior installments and is instead rooted in the paranoia-driven anxiety of De Palma’s work in the very first film. This works wonders, as it folds Dead Reckoning Part One’s story directly into the visuals of the piece, elevating the feeling that Hunt and his team are overexposed and in more dire circumstances than ever before.
From his ruthless and rigorous implementation of shot-reverse-shot and the strategically motivated breaking-of-the-line within it to the masterful clarity and impact with which he captures the film’s biggest setpieces to how his visuals are in utter synchrony with the emotionality of the film, McQuarrie’s work here is endlessly motivated, deeply intellectual, and incredibly impactful.
1. Tom Cruise
Look, there’s simply no one else doing what Tom Cruise does. In an era where the tools at a filmmaker’s disposal are more plentiful and shiny than ever before, so many blockbusters are inclined to use digital effects and CGI as a crutch. In stark contrast, Cruise and McQuarrie view digital effects as something to be used in unison with practical effects to heighten the audience’s immersion in the practicality of the authentically dangerous stunt work being performed. They are very much the modern-day equivalent of silent film innovators such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, pushing at the boundaries of the cinematic form to provide ground-breaking and awe-inspiring entertainment.
And for as ludicrously impressive as the macro of Tom Cruise’s physicality (on full display in these stunt-driven setpieces) is, it’s the micro of his physical performance that is often nigh unbelievable. Cruise clearly has total control and self-awareness when it comes to his physical presence and is flat-out astounding to witness how much emotion he can express with a simple clench of the jaw. Cruise is truly one of the greatest living actors today, and every single minutia of his performance in Dead Reckoning Part One is both profoundly primal in the emotion it elicits and masterfully articulated.
In following up on the massive success of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Cruise and McQuarrie opted to do something entirely different. If Fallout and Top Gun: Maverick were masterfully made radio-dominating pop songs, engineered to perfection, then Dead Reckoning Part One is an orchestral suite. They’ve taken up the challenge of a two-part film, delivering a story that is positively mammoth in its size and scope, and are devoting painstaking attention to each separate thread as they weave through and around one another.
Fallout was the biggest financial and critical smash of the franchise thus far, leaving Cruise and McQuarrie facing an unenviable question: how does one follow such a success? The answer was to take everything they had learned, from Jack Reacher to Mission: Impossible – Fallout to Top Gun: Maverick, and build upon it in articulate and strikingly unexpected ways. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One sees Cruise and McQuarrie pushing at the very boundaries of not only their own creative process but at the boundaries of filmmaking itself.
The seventh installment in the long-running franchise, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, sees Cruise once again reteaming with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie to dizzyingly brilliant results. McQuarrie and Cruise have been creative collaborators for over a decade, with McQuarrie first truly taking the reins of this franchise on the fifth film, Rogue Nation. In following up the series’ then-highlight, Ghost Protocol, McQuarrie took a serialized approach, looking to Mission: Impossible’s history to chart a course forward. The sixth film, Fallout, took this approach to even greater heights, delivering one of the best and most stunningly cinematic action films of the past few decades.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is an astonishing cinematic accomplishment on every level and proves that Cruise and McQuarrie are among the most big-budget filmmakers working today.
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