MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE Review: It's Cruise's World, Our Luck to Live In It

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE Review: It's Cruise's World, Our Luck to Live In It

Beginning 15 years ago with Valkyrie, a WWII action-thriller centered on the ill-fated, real-life attempt to assassinate Hitler by senior military officers, Academy Award-winning writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) has been in the Tom Cruise business and business, as everyone knows by now, has been very good, not just for Cruise but for McQuarrie too.

Since that first team-up, McQuarrie contributed a series-saving, uncredited rewrite of 2011’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol for director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) before turning his screenwriting talents to several Cruise-led projects, including Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, and The Mummy (a rare commercial misfire). More recently, the duo collaborated on Top Gun: Maverick, the record-breaking sequel to director Tony Scott’s 1986 hit film, Top Gun.

During the interim, McQuarrie and Cruise became inseparable, working at a commercial and artistic level few others have rarely achieved. Cruise trusted McQuarrie to not only script the last two Mission: Impossible entries, Rogue Nation and Fallout, but also to find the right mix as director of a complex, forward-moving story, psychologically motivated characters, and the eye-massaging spectacle key to the success of the series. Fueled by Cruise’s status as one of Hollywood’s remaining movie stars, that alchemical mix has made each subsequent entry not just commercially successful but critically appreciated as well.

Having left most of the original ‘60s-era spy-thriller tropes behind long ago, the seventh installment, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, opens with a tense, suspenseful prologue set underwater. The prologue consciously connects the big-screen MI series with Tom Clancy’s most famous creation, Jack Ryan, and his first cinematic appearance, The Hunt for Red October. As Ryaneseque or even as Bondian as the preceding sounds, a mislaid stealth submarine isn’t the seventh entry’s main objective, but something it’s carrying is: advanced technology with the usual world-changing potential.

That, in turn, segues to the post-prologue scene, reintroducing Ethan Hunt (Cruise), an on-again-off-again IMF (Impossible Missions Force) field operative, receiving a self-destructing package from one-time IMF official and longtime frenemy Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, making a welcome return after a three-decade-long hiatus). Hunt’s mission, should he choose to accept it, involves retrieving a literal two-part “key” (MacGuffin alert), before it falls into the usual assortment of wrong hands (i.e., non-US or non-Western). It’s both topical plot-wise as it is disposable, providing the necessary rationale for the elaborately, brilliantly choreographed set pieces inserted into the seventh entry with metronymic regularity.

What that two-part key unlocks and what ramifications the key’s possession might hold for the balance of power among the various nation-states and non-state actors vying for its retrieval won’t be spoiled here, but once it’s revealed to Hunt, his crew, and, by extension, us, it won’t surprise audience members casually attuned to current technological developments or a recent network TV series with a Nolan brothers connection that ended its five-year run just a few years ago.

Familiar, cliched, or not, the hunt for and retrieval of the two-part key brings Hunt face-to-face with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an ex-MI6 agent who joined Hunt and company on their last two adventures, his closest allies and friends, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), a field tech and IMF agent, and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), computer hacker extraordinaire (ordinary hackers need not apply). A new player, Grace (Hayley Atwell), an unreformed master thief, plays an increasingly important role in the unfolding plot too, though her loyalties shift from selfish and self-centered to altruistic and team player as McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen’s precision-timed script demands.

With a new shining object to pursue, a new, amoral enemy, Gabriel (Esai Morales), to evade and/or defeat, and the stakes never higher in the series, McQuarrie and Cruise take audiences from the flowing icecaps of the Bering Sea to the dusty deserts of the Middle East, Dubai, Rome, Venice, and eventually a third-act capper on the Orient Express that Agatha Christie popularized almost a century ago. The constantly changing locations are tried-and-true ways of keeping energy levels up, story momentum inexorably moving forward, and audiences enthralled. As in previous entries, McQuarrie and Cruise deliver one exhilarating, escalating set piece after another (and another), filling the screen from edge to edge with budget-busting visuals, ear-bursting sounds, and ultimately, a narrative cliffhanger that sets the stage and/or table for the eighth and last installment in the franchise.

As usual, Cruise willingly risks body, mind, and soul for the singularly choreographed, stunt-heavy action. It’s part of the unspoken contract between filmmakers and the audience.

There’s almost nothing Cruise won’t do and here, once again, he engages in a wide variety of physical stunts, from firearm-heavy combat in the desert, to multiple, overlapping car chases, and onto what’s become a signature stunt for the indomitable Cruise, falling or leaping from planes, trains, and automobiles (also motorcycles). The higher the physical risk onscreen, the better for Cruise and, by extension, the audience sitting in rapt attention on the other side of the digital screen.

Still, there’s something to be said for an artist — and actors engaging in dangerous or potentially dangerous stunts qualify as artists without hesitation or reservation – willing to literally and not just figuratively sacrifice themselves for their art, and Cruise is nothing if not an artist, an artist who’s repeatedly confronted his own mortality in the long-running series only to openly dismiss those risks at press junkets, red carpets, or TV appearances.

Ultimately, Cruise’s latest high-flying performance in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, like the six before this one, isn’t likely to win him industry-level awards, but collectively, if not individually, his performances in the series will win him something perhaps even more important to Cruise and his fans, a form of cinematic and pop-cultural immortality available to only a select few.  

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One opens Thursday, July 12, exclusively in movie theaters, via Paramount Pictures.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

  • Christopher McQuarrie
  • Bruce Geller
  • Erik Jendresen
  • Christopher McQuarrie
  • Rebecca Ferguson
  • Tom Cruise
  • Pom Klementieff
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Christopher McQuarrieEsai MoralesHayley AtwellPom KlementieffRebecca FergusonShea WhighamSimon PeggTom CruiseVanessa KirbyVing RhamesBruce GellerErik JendresenActionAdventureThriller

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