2006Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Laurence Fishburne
et's face it. Something big is coming. Tom Cruise, with that absolute grin bulging at the seams, is cracking up. I fear cult suicide or some kind of lurid ritual sex revelation. Something is clearly going to happen. But let me say something else: l love Tom Cruise. I find his screen presence reassuring, his films—for better or worse— defining. I always find it easier to criticise those who turn up in Cruise movies than the man himself. For example, Laurence Fishburne, peddling that same old deep-throat Neo shit in every film he's in. Critics don't focus on that, they don't point out the fact that Larry couldn't carry a film if it was glued to his back. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a fine actor, but here, he's happy to be reduced to a sucky lickspittle. Cruise is the man who carries this shallow film, and boy, he runs with it, weaving through the plot holes, false intimacy, incoherent script, into the end zone. Touchdown. Cruise control.
MI:3 is, to be sure, a very strange sort of film. It’s rare for me to see something like this. My action movie days begin and end with the Sly / Arnie / Willis alliance. Rambo, Predator, Die Hard—undisputed exemplars of the macho malaise. Modern action movies are embodied by anonymous flicks like S.W.A.T or Stealth. MI:3 is something else. It has a distinctly dreamlike quality, like a very lucid hallucination. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on apart from what was happening. There is no subtext. Everything is overt. It’s like being able to read minds or see the future. It’s relentless. Every moment of the film is expertly and explosively designed to make Cruise look good, be good, noble, sacrificial, sexy, funny, deep—and normal.
The film opens with Cruise—forget that he's playing Ethan Hunt; this, as always, is Tom Cruise—hosting an overwhelmingly middle-class party. Some very clean reggae plays in the background. Three women (white, black, oriental) express their sexual attraction to him. I felt boxes being ticked. It's great to see the film trying to normalise Hunt with human relationships, just as Cruise tries to normalise himself in the media by signing autographs for three hours. It's so strained it's uncomfortable. Cruise, then, gets dragged back into the world of spies, codes, red herrings, villains, high-risks, low blood sugar, and great cars…and, finally, it all winds up okay and fades out on him grinning.
This movie tells you one thing, and only one thing, about modern society: that 24 exists. Season 2 of Lost kind of looks like 24, too. So, JJ Abrams is well on top of that. The visual aspect is largely handheld—frenetic, nightmarish, impressive. The set pieces are not as memorable as the first film, while far less laughable than the second. The theme music never really kicks off at any point; it doesn't bite the way it used to. Given the musical climate, I was hoping for a sullen, noodling acoustic rendition of the infamous tune. However, the film does tip its hat to the current trend of playing unrecognisable, excitable hip-hop over the final credits to help sales of the soundtrack. And bully for Simon Pegg who must be twirling in ballyhoo heaven as his rate of unlikely ascent continues faster than Vinnie Jones.
So much money has gone into the making of this film (exploding helicopters, Lamborghinis, bridges), so much fire and metal, that it feels forged from a primitive vision. There’s probably some Neanderthal freaking out, 2 million years ago, drawing it all on a cave wall, puking out his mad techno dreams. When you look back on the film, it really isn't about anything. It's needlessly exciting, like staring at your own erection. There's no actual threat anywhere. It was all supposed, assumed, or created by the characters themselves. But it's never actually there. In fact, the only threat mentioned is a vague reference to starting a war in the Middle East, a war that, obviously, is currently being waged. The ostensible threat here becomes breaching the barrier between fiction and reality, from which Tom Cruise, the grand hero of image fiction, saves us and will always save us.
Critics who dump on the movie really miss its point. It’s Mission Impossible. It's playful, fun, improbable, silly. In MI:3, Cruise takes the beautiful notion, proposed by Orson Welles, of cinema as a “ribbon of dreams” and uses it to strangle nameless (but no doubt evil) terrorists—as good a use of the ribbon as any. As an action film, it succeeds, and, as a friend of mine noted, as an advanced form of dreaming, it’s superb. Don't watch this film expecting The Lady from Shanghai; catch it if you'd like to see a lady in Shanghai get shot, blown up, and dragged under an out of control fuel truck.
MI:3 is in theaters across the country now.