IMF secret agent Ethan Hunt is on the run, his team have been killed and he's accused of being a mole. Recruiting a number of disavowed agents he sets out to prove his innocence and expose the real enemy within.
With a star-studded cast killed off in the opening minutes Mission: Impossible immediately asks viewers to pay attention. Not that it's as overly complex as its reputation suggests, more accurately it's a movie that doesn't insult the intelligence of its audience. Realising that the best blockbusters engage the mind as well as the eye the screenplay, by David Koepp and Robert Towne, offers plenty of twists as Ethan Hunt and his accomplices realise little is as straightforward as it first seems. As Ethan Tom Cruise is a hero to champion embodying self-determination and resilient defiance, the egotistical excesses he would bring to the sequels kept in check by a supporting cast that includes strong performances from Ving Rhames and Jean Reno. Sadly Emmanuelle Béart has little to do other than look good, but everything looks good thanks to Brian De Palma.
De Palma embraces the familiar tropes of spy movies with whispered code words and clandestine rendezvous artfully realised against the backdrops of numerous European locations. His visual trademarks are never fully subsumed by the conventions of popcorn cinema, in fact the plot lends itself to his technical obsessions as he delivers many of his trademark motifs including extended suspenseful scenes with minimal dialogue; Ethan and his collaborators infiltrating the CIA is the purest definition of edge of the seat entertainment. The pace of this globetrotting adventure never falters with a palpable sense of the pressure our heroes are under permeating proceedings, be it during the dialogue scenes with their undercurrent of mistrust or the explosive set-pieces.
Mission: Impossible is a confident summer blockbuster that fully satisfies. A masterclass in commercial cinema it successfully updates elements from the original series – self-destructing mission briefings, rubber mask disguises – for a contemporary audience. De Palma's overtly stylised directorial techniques coupled with complementary performances delivers a perfectly crafted action thriller that skillfully blends intelligent espionage plotting with cat and mouse suspense and crowd pleasing action. And let's face it, when Lalo Schifrin's classic theme kicks in it's hard to resist.
He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better as his profile dipped in its later years, with Passion barely seeing the inside of cinemas. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.