Mission: Impossible (1996)
Directed by Brian De Palma

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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His team having been set up and killed, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), a secret agent working for the United States government, is blamed for their deaths. While subsequently trying to avoid capture, Ethan teams up with the widow of one of his slain men and sets out to learn who was really behind the attack.

Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible may not be particularly distinguished in any way, but it is a fun, well made, and exciting movie that is likely to keep the viewer engaged throughout its duration.


The story the director tells is more nebulous than it is complex, and there is much in the film that is left unexplained. For instance, some of the characters' motivations and a number of the connections which tie the events depicted together remain extremely vague. Fortunately, the movie is filled with so many betrayals, surprises, and hidden motives that, despite its weaknesses, it does retain the viewer's attention. He is, as a result, generally able to put aside his concern that the story does not quite add up and allow himself to be carried along by its various twists and adventures.

What is more, the action sequences with which Mission: Impossible is frequently punctuated, while rarely electrifying, are generally nicely realized and do elicit feelings of tense excitement from the moviegoer. Consequently, even if he is not truly thrilled, he is still likely to enjoy them. The sequence with which the film concludes, in which Ethan battles his enemy atop a high speed train while being pursued by a helicopter, is particularly fun. Another, in which the hero infiltrates CIA headquarters and burgles a high security room while dangling on a rope is, however, only marginally less entertaining.

Lastly, I should add that the skills displayed by the actors are never exceptional, but they are usually sufficient to bring out whatever qualities are required to enhance the film's story. Cruise is slick and stylish as the hunted spy and successfully displays the diverse skills which allow him to survive numerous attacks and to carry out his own complex plots. Jon Voight and Emmanuelle Béart are competent if forgettable as fellow spies. Sadly, Jean Reno is largely wasted, and Ving Rhames is utterly ridiculous as a computer hacker. Although both Reno and Rhames are talented performers, neither adds much to De Palma's film.

Whatever its faults, and its consistent mediocrity, Mission: Impossible is, nonetheless, an entertaining movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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