Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett
Mission: Impossible — Fallout is deliciously retro in its approach to action and storytelling even as it breaks new ground for the now 22-year-old franchise. Starring once again as the super-spy Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise runs from Berlin to Paris to London to Kashmir, and returning writer-director Christopher McQuarrie pays homage to film history, taking cues from as far back as the silent era.
Playing like a Buster Keaton movie on steroids, McQuarrie captures the set pieces with clarity, filling his frame with as many details as possible, namely Cruise’s face or body. There is no doubting Cruise is doing the HALO jump from 25,000ft. McQuarrie rejects modern action techniques like shaky-cam, embracing the kinetic energy gifted by something as small as motion blur. A tracking shot following a speeding motorbike through a series of arches is hypnotic, each moment of a foot chase, car chase or helicopter chase is buoyed by propulsive energy. The director has a keen eye for spatial awareness, using perspective to dizzying effect. He places objects in his foreground and background to create a sense of scale, at one point, the camera craning over Cruise is nauseating.
As a writer, McQuarrie is known for his witty and smart scripts, skills that help him here. Once again, like Buster Keaton, his action scenes do the expected at unexpected moments; a staged mistake feels natural, and the intelligence of his story, filled with double-crosses, face swaps and uneasy alliances, gets the audience to each set piece in a gripping fashion. Fallout is a more sombre Mission. The third act gets particularly cruel, but the story knows it is ridiculous; characters bond while defusing a nuclear bomb and bicker about if they should do so with one or two seconds left on the clock. McQuarrie makes up for a few of the one-liners falling flat and some obvious twists by probing Hunt’s psychology. What drives him to accept these missions?
Hunt is pushed to his limit by this question, and he is haunted by what he might have to do to save the day. Cruise runs with this new focus, and there is a surprising tone of finality at the film’s moving denouement. Maybe he has offered everything to this franchise, and if this is the last mission he accepts, he goes out on the best performance as the super-spy.
Testing Hunt is returning villain Solomon Lane (an eerie Sean Harris), whose lack of moral boundaries make him an effective foil. He — and McQuarrie — tests Hunt and his team with twisted conundrums asking if they will choose one life over thousands. Luther (Ving Rhames, surprisingly moving), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) return, while CIA implant August Walker (Henry Cavill) is the volatile newbie. It is a testament to McQuarrie and his emphasis on the team that we care about the wider players and are as shocked and awed by their actions as we are Hunt’s. Even agency bosses like Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett, having fun as a cynical CIA agent) do something amazing.
Cavill’s infamous moustache is its own character and a great choice by the actor. The facial hair shows a sense of character we’ve never seen from him before. It bristles with Walker’s rage and is a metaphorical hint at what becomes of the character. Devilish in its construction and absolute in its execution, Mission: Impossible — Fallout is a great piece of action cinema that strikes a balance between its characters and its set pieces. McQuarrie and Cruise have crafted a piece of pure delirium.