Monday, January 2, 2012

Mission Impossible -- impossible expected!

Director: Brian De Palma, 1996. (PG-13)

"Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept . . . If you or any member of your team is caught or killed, we will disavow all knowledge of you." For those old enough to remember the terrific television show from the late 1960s, this is how each episode would start. And this is how this first films begins, with Jon Voight as the Impossible Mission Force leader Jim Phelps.

For his mission, Phelps compiles quite a crew: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, Top Gun), his wife Clair Phelps (Emmanuelle Beart, Manon of the Spring), Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient), and Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez, uncredited). The mission involves crashing an official dinner party in Prague and capturing a stolen NOC list, a list of non-official covers for American spies, which would lead to extensive capture and execution of these agents. But things go horribly wrong and Hunt finds himself on the run from his own agency, looking for the NOC list. To do this, he has to recruit former agents Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), a computer specialist, and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno, The Professional).

Unlike the TV show, the film is expansive like a Bond movie. Travelling from Prague to Virginia to London, Hunt is a man on a mission, not only to save himself, but to find the traitor. But like the show, there are masks and gadgets galore.

The plot is absorbing with a clever storyline, excellent explosions, and fabulous set-pieces. Several stand-out. The climax on the chunnel train with a helicopter chase thrills even while it defies logic. The best, though, is the break-in to CIA HQ at Langley, where Hunt dangles inches from the pressure-sensitive floor while trying to hack the hacker-proof computer. This still has become the defining image of the MI films, being repeated in one way or another in the subsequent sequels.

Zero body count" is the tone of this installment of Mission Impossible. Ethan Hunt tells this to Krieger as the Frenchman is about to slit a good guy's throat. The erstwhile American spy chooses to keep a clean body count, but later "matures" and gets in touch with his killer nature. But that is for the first sequel.

When it comes down to it, this thriller is terrific fun but theologically forsaken. Yet consider the tagline: "Expect the Impossible". In the film, Hunt faces formidable obstacles and tasks, all "impossible" on the face of it. But we expect him to overcome and to do the impossible. In real life this seems incredible. Much is impossible for man. But nothing is impossible for God. In Luke 18:27, Jesus said “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” He can do anything and everything (except what is logically impossible, such as make a round square). He is the one who can walk through locked doors (Jn. 20:19), turn enemies into friends (Acts 9), and defeat death itself (Rev. 20:14). The next time you face the impossible, call on Jesus!

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

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