Sunday, 26 July 2015
For his pass at Mission: Impossible, director Brian De Palma posits Tom Cruise as a grinning automaton that needs to be put through the wringer. In group briefings, Cruise's Ethan Hunt is the joker, riffing on his boss' advancing age to the delight of his spy pals. We're presented with the idea that the opening case will be routine, to the point where no-one even seems to be taking it particularly seriously. It's clear they all expect to breeze through the assignment.
Hunt's cocky self-assurance is tied into a squad pecking order. He's flanked by talent and has the ear of his warhorse superior, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). Watched with the benefit on knowing Phelps' true intentions, it's fun to note his apparent hatred of Hunt. The playful back-and-forth about Phelps' dotage is obviously a recurring irritation for the IMF commander. To Hunt it's a gag. For Phelps it's a pack challenge from a juvenile looking to claim his wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart). Reason enough to wipe out the team and sink the operation.
Although Mission: Impossible dials back on the more Oedipal details (a romantic dalliance between Cruise and Béart was dropped to keep the second act moving), the basic antagonism remains between two men who are essentially the same person glimpsed at different points in his life. Hunt is the young agent on the rise, the film charting his progression from component to leader. Phelps is the seasoned veteran who survived the Cold War and doesn't want to pass the torch. He'd rather bury his protégé instead.