Film Review – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Throughout this latest adventure, we hear super agent Ethan Hunt utter the phrase, “I won’t let you down.” While that plays as a crucial element in the plot, we can also examine it from the actor who delivers the line. Tom Cruise, at fifty six years young, seems to be talking directly at us – the audience – letting us know that he will give us exactly what we’re looking for: high octane action and death defying stunts. Cruise is one of the last movie stars of his kind, combining his immense screen presence with a keen understanding of how to entertain. He is the ultimate showman, able to adapt to changing times. Although he has had his fair share of duds, he never goes into a project without full commitment. Think about this: the Mission: Impossible series has gone on for over twenty years and is only getting better. Where many action stars fade the older they get, Cruise rushes forward, pushing the limit (both physically and mentally) for our enjoyment.
But Fallout isn’t just the “Tom Cruise Show.” Here now is the emergence of Christopher McQuarrie as an elite action director. The previous entry, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) was great fun and had plenty of intrigue, but Fallout tops it with its set pieces, intricate plotting, and breathless pacing. The balance between practical effects and CGI is perfectly handled. To a larger degree is an emotional factor that catches us off guard. We get all the thrills that we expect and yet McQuarrie (who also wrote screenplay) sneaks in a character study that makes the material all the richer. The cinematography (Rob Hardy) is assured and confident. We see everything clearly, the framing allowing us to witness Cruise in full view of his numerous stunt work. Eddie Hamilton’s editing cuts between shots with clarity. At no point is there confusion in the geography of a set piece. Lorne Balfe’s score is pulse pounding, calling to mind the feel of a crime thriller.
Breaking the episodic nature of the series, Fallout acts as a direct sequel to Rogue Nation. This time we see Ethan dealing with the moral dilemma of being an agent – whether or not its better to sacrifice one life if it means saving millions more. That idea has always existed in the background of the previous entries, but here is where it comes to full fruition. Ethan is a man who cannot fathom making the hard choice; he would rather sacrifice himself than see a single person perish. It’s that weakness that causes Ethan and his partners Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) to lose a case of plutonium into the hands of bad guys, putting many lives at risk.
But that weakness is also Ethan’s greatest strength, motivating him to track down the plutonium with unrelenting obsession. Why does Ethan feel the need to go out on a limb even when the goal appears unreachable? The answer is the same with many other movie heroes: because he has to. Ethan saves lives because he must, and he does it like no one else. Along for the ride is CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) assigned to keep a watchful eye over Ethan and his team. There’s also the reappearance of the mysterious British agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) the villain of Rogue Nation who has returned with destruction and chaos on his mind.
After an early expository scene, McQuarrie puts his foot on the gas and never lets up. Fallout constantly moves, even the quieter, character driven moments are designed with urgency. Ethan tackles his mission like a mad man, and Cruise tackles his role in the same vein. Cruise performs a HALO jump, goes on high speed chases in a truck, in a car, and on a motorcycle through the streets of Paris, engages in a brutal hand to hand fight inside of a nightclub bathroom – and this is all happens before he famously broke his ankle jumping from one rooftop to another (the shot is used in the movie).
All throughout, McQuarrie makes the precise right decisions on how to depict the action. The bathroom fight scene is done with no music, allowing us to hear and feel every punch. The motorcycle chase is shot from three angles (in front of the bike, to the side, and from behind), ensuring that we can see Cruise is the one driving it, narrowly missing being smacked by a passing car. During a rescue operation, a character is stuck inside of a truck slowly submerging into the Seine river. The camera inside captures the rising water sideways like a growing wall coming to take its victim. McQuarrie’s biggest improvement as a director is by building the tension all the way up to the climax. In Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) the key set piece always happened right in the middle of the plot, causing the third act to sink just a bit. That is not the case with Fallout, in which the final showdown is a spectacular feat of imagination, execution, and fearlessness. I dare not describe it to you and spoil the fun.
Not enough can be said about Cruise’s fantastic performance. Not only in the physical sense (at one point he runs so hard that it looks like he’s about to take off) but also as a dynamic, fully developed character. To Ethan, every life matters. Occasionally, McQuarrie will bring the narrative to a standstill and focus in on Cruise’s face during a moment of emotional conflict, where he is faced with a decision he simply does not want to make. Every instance of this is effective, causing us to understand that Ethan is not a machine, but a flesh a blood person whose acts of violence against others leave a lasting effect.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the kind of movie that causes people to fall in love with movies. The craftsmanship is stellar, the performances are great, the action awe-inspiring, and the story deeply involving. Being a film fan means being in a constant search for an experience that puts us on the edge of our seats and grab the armrests with excitement. This delivers that in spades. As Cruise says, “I won’t let you down” – and he certainly didn’t.