Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018; Directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

As star of the Mission: Impossible movies, Tom Cruise has a way of winning begrudging admiration for bluntly effective single-use instruments. Not every actor is a Swiss army knife in the manner of Daniel Day-Lewis or Cate Blanchett or Christian Bale or Meryl Streep, capable of performing convincing Method-ish transformations into any number of roles, historical figures, or human archetypes (heck, the vast majority of thespians are not). Neither is every actor capable of transforming convincing into a human being at all, of tapping believably into that swirling cocktail of hopes and fears and flaws and weird persisting beauty that unites all of us intelligent limited-hair apes in our uncomfortable shared carpool on this ailing planet.

You don’t look to Tom Cruise for any of those things. For a time, Cruise and the filmmakers he worked with entertained notions that realistic nuance, empathy, and believable human emotion in general were things that he could do. Smart, canny filmmakers did employ Cruise in roles that turned his oppressive image and limited range to their films’ advantage: Paul Thomas Anderson found cracked-facade pathos in Cruise’s aggressive performative masculinity for Magnolia, Ben Stiller turned that same quality to absurd self-parodying comic heights in Tropic Thunder, and that most penetratively perceptive of film auteurs, Stanley Kubrick, used Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s then-fracturing semi-sham of a marriage as raw material for his final film about a fracturing semi-sham of a marriage, Eyes Wide Shut.

But somewhere between these sort of roles and the public humiliation of the revelation of the depths of weirdness surrounding Cruise’s involvement in the Church of Scientology, and around the time Cruise turned 50, he seems to have decided to embrace his chosen calling as a ridiculously, inhumanly driven action-movie avatar. With the certain wisdom of age and experience and perhaps also with the acquired self-perception of the ravenous devourer of film that his reputation has painted him as, Cruise has accepted that he will always be at his best fighting and shooting guns and driving cars really fast and, yes, running really hard, with brief interludes of concentrated examination of electronic info-screens, comic banter with sidekicks, and tearful scenes with female (always female, and don’t you forget it!) love interests. This is what Tom Cruise was meant to do. He’s going to do it and you’d better like it.

This is why a superior espionage-action blockbuster like Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the ideal vehicle for Cruise at this point of his career, and maybe at any point. It reduces his functions as a performer to just those which he is successful at, as enumerated above, at the exclusion of any others that he may be tempted to try his hand at, most likely less successfully. As producer of Fallout as well as its star, Cruise can apply the obsessive-compulsive drive so fully embodied in that famous all-out sprint of his (which he does in this film over London rooftops with a broken ankle, as if for emphasis) to a full production. Along with key collaborating director Christopher McQuarrie (who also helmed the last M:I film, Rogue Nation and Cruise’s Jack Reacher vehicle), Cruise sees to it that Fallout is, like himself, a singular-focused blunt instrument of pure, unalloyed big-budget entertainment.

Fallout follows Rogue Nation with what I take to be some measure of narrative continuity; I can’t say so from personal experience, having not seen that last installment (truth be told, I’ve only seen Brad Bird’s kinetic Ghost Protocol and Brian DePalma’s franchise opener, but this is the kind of franchise you can drop in and out of without missing much in the way of context). Cruise’s fellow Impossible Missions Force (IMF) squad members – Simon Pegg’s Benji and Ving Rhames’ Luther, as well as bossman Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) – return, as does sometimes-ally and former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and anarcho-terrorist antagonist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, a far more intense and compelling actor than this material deserves). Lane’s shadowy network of terroristic Apostles have evidently stolen plutonium cores and have the means to install it in nuclear devices that they plan to set off somewhere in the world. Joined by CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill, an object so blunt as to make Cruise seem complex and sophisticated in comparison), Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt must stop the nuclear plot in a globe-trotting adventure from Berlin to Paris to London to the mountains of Kashmir (the latter actually shot in New Zealand).

There’s piles of spy movie standbys on display, double- and triple-crosses (sometimes in the same scene) and disguises and rendezvous with femmes fatale (namely Vanessa Kirby’s inscrutable White Widow) and digital readout bomb countdowns and fleeting digressions on the ethics of taking a life to save hundreds, thousands, or millions more. But the reason you’ll want to see Fallout is for its utterly spectacular, bar-raising action sequences, mostly achieved with old-fashioned practical rigs and absolutely next-level stunt work, per Cruise’s fanatical insistence on realism. Cruise leads from the front in the matters, for example having trained relentlessly so that he could himself perform a HALO skydive over Paris for a white-knuckle aerial sequence early in the film (the camera operator leaps with him, leading to a stunning shot as Cruise follows the plunging camera out the back of the airplane).

The HALO jump scene only scratches the surface of Fallout‘s incredible action. A bruising, exclamatory dust-up in a bathroom pitting Hunt and Walker against Liang Yang’s supposed extremist agent John Lark features some remarkable fight choreography. A climactic helicopter chase over snowy peaks (with Cruise flying the chopper himself, because of course he does) manages to be tense and exciting, which you might not think would be possible for that particular type of aerial conveyance but assuredly is (do a hang-glider chase next!). Two consecutive car-and-motorcycle chases through the streets of Paris seem almost like footnotes to mention after the high quality of the rest of the action, but the first one in particular deserves to be ranked among the best vehicular pursuit sequences in cinematic history.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout likewise demands attention as a candidate for one of the finest pure action blockbusters ever created, and producer and star Tom Cruise deserves ample credit for that. The man takes a lot of guff as a performer and public figure, and this review has been no exception. But kudos are also due for what he does well: entertain the captive masses as an action figure of singular focus and directness. Fallout has just enough plot to cohere as a movie and just enough in its head and its heart not to lose our attention in between its riveting action spectacles. It doesn’t bother with much else, nor should it. Like Tom Cruise, when it’s time to run, this movie breaks into a full sprint. Let’s appreciate the dedication to the craft of hitting that big nail square on the head as hard as possible. It’s not as easy as it might seem.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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