Mission Impossible: Fallout defied the two defining trends of 2018 at the films. It exceeded the wildest expectations anyone had for the sixth film in a 22-year-old series, and it managed to be the poster child for how franchises can be amazing in a year when franchise fatigue seemed to reach a new level of punishing. Not only is Fallout the best MI film, but it’s also arguably the best film of last year and the best action film since at least Mad Max: Fury Road. The film manages to weave a coherent and compelling plot around a series of action set pieces that play like a compelling audition tape for the creation of a Best Stunt Work Oscar category. No matter what kind of action scene is your personal favorite (skydive; gunfight; fist fight; crashes; explosions; and chases by foot, helicopter, motorcycle, and car) Fallout does them and does them as well as any film ever has.
Picking one of those set pieces to elevate over the others is a tough call. The HALO jump is astonishing. Cruise and Cavill’s restroom rumble is fantastic. My favorite sequence of the film though is the extraction of the film’s villain, Solomon Lane, from custody and the ensuing madness in Paris. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the film, crafted a masterful action sequence in which an improvising Ethan Hunt has to figure out a way to break his nemesis out of a moving armored convoy while minimizing any collateral damage intended by his allies of the moment. The sequence, which also highlights the film’s gorgeous cinematography and score by Lorne Balfe, typifies what I think is Fallout’s best move: humanizing Ethan Hunt. There’s more characterization for Ethan in this film than in the previous five combined and, with a few exceptions, most of is done in the beats between actions. He’s tired in this film. Always so cocksure and calculated, Hunt spends a lot of Fallout looking out-of-breath and in overt exasperated disbelief at some of the things he still has to do to keep the world safe. Tom Cruise, at age 56, finally lets his character look his age, and I think he’s a more interesting protagonist for it. Fallout a bar for quality that’s going to be a near (brace for it) impossible standard for future installments of the franchise to follow. If there’s a flaw in the film, I can’t find it.
Some Oscar wins are the product of decades of work. Some reward powerhouse performances that carry a film. Sometimes, though, they go to the best five minutes of the year. I’m not a giant Anne Hathaway fan. I am not a part of the disturbingly vocal “Hathahate” community on the net, but I honestly have never been blown away by her. The giant exception to that is the best five minutes performed by any actor or actress in 2012: Hathaway’s phenomenal performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables.
Holding the camera for five minutes by simply acting your way through a song performance is about as difficult a task as a screen actor can be handed, but Hathaway is mesmerizing. “I Dreamed a Dream” is unquestionably Les Miserables’s signature number, and there are a staggering amount of awful things happening to her character by the time she breaks into the anthem about shattered hope. It would have been easy to end up chewing the scenery or being swallowed by the material, but Hathaway gives a nuanced and powerful vocal that stole this film. I saw this on Christmas Day 2012, which was a bit of a surreal experience. To me, misadventures of tuberculosis-ridden French revolutionaries does not exactly say, “Seasons Greetings!” I was, however, soundly outvoted by my family. While I may be lukewarm on the film as a whole, this scene was easily more than worth the ticket price.
I’m so glad Aaron Sorkin wrote The American President and its intellectual sequel, The West Wing, at the time he did. It’s hard to imagine either working today. If you’re a fan of The West Wing and have never seen The American President, you absolutely should. It’s a wonderful film, and you can clearly see Sorkin working out ideas that he would later expand on in much more detail in The West Wing. A number of cast members, led by Martin Sheen who plays White House Chief of Staff in The American President and President Bartlet in The West Wing, star in both the film and the TV series. Both Sorkin projects are unabashed love letters to the American system of democracy and the ideal of public service. Those concepts have been so tarnished in the decade since The West Wing left the air that I can’t give any serious credence to the rumors of the show’s revival.
The Presidency and The White House are as much a part of the cast of The American President as Michael Douglas or Annette Bening (both of whom turn in some of the best performances of their careers). There have been hundreds of film Presidents, but The American President takes a uniquely human look at the President. Andrew Shepard (Douglas) is looked at as a father and a man in love as much as he is the President. The film captures the last era before the Internet would change how everyone, including POTUS, would interact forever. All in all (and I realize I’m publishing this on a blog, the irony does not escape me) it was a more civilized age. It’s nice to be able to go back to media time capsules like this and unplug from the current political paradigm. Sorkin is my favorite writer in any medium, and I can’t wait to see what does next.
As Tom Cruise gets ready to sprint into theaters with Mission Impossible: Fallout, it’s worth pregaming with his last really great non-MI film: 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise certainly has his offputting personal qualities, but you can’t say the man doesn’t show up to a film set with unrivaled energy. The best roles he’s had blend his affinity for absurd physicality and character work. Cruise, unlike a lot of action stars, actually can act. He may have stopped going for Oscar-type roles, but he’s better than his recently dreary The Mummy or the Jack Reacher duology. Edge or Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat depending on which title you prefer) provides Cruise with the best time travel gimmick since Groundhog Day and a character that plays against his type.
Cruise’s character is EoT isn’t a hero, he doesn’t want to fight, and he starts out as kind of a coward. The “Cruisian Superhero” tropes that Tom usually leans on aren’t anywhere to be found in Doug Liman’s film. Until his character begins his time loop, there isn’t much redeemable in this character. Once he’s trapped, though, he has to go through to get out. Going through, however, in this case, requires a lot of dying. There are some interesting theories on how much time Cruise actually spends trapped in his loop during the film. He dies (resetting his loop) 16 times on-camera in Edge of Tomorrow, but the implication is that’s just a fraction of his journey. Estimates on the IMDB boards on his time looping duration range from 100 days to 1,000 days to 10 years. As he spends more and more time buffing out the dings in his temporal prison, he becomes more and more redeemable and the time forge ends up pounding out one of Cruise’s best and most unlikely heroes by film’s end.