Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” —Dead Reckoning Part One

Tom Cruise just might be a clone of his alter ego, IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. Or was it Hunt that was modeled after Cruise? Cruise has an insatiable appetite for dangerous, impossible feats that no one has tried, and his toughest competition is himself. Each Mission: Impossible episode features Cruise as his own stunt man executing a new daredevil act. He scales the world’s tallest building, jumps from an airplane at 25,000 feet, and climbs a bald and very vertical peak. And he’s just getting started.

In Dead Reckoning Part One, Ethan Hunt rides a motorcycle in pursuit of a speeding train. But the rising terrain takes him to the edge of a towering cliff, where he spots the train far below. He does the only logical thing: he rides the bike at high speed right off the cliff into a fast fall, waiting for his parachute to open and land him on the train. And, no, you didn’t misread this, it’s in the movie. We can only imagine the sense of relief among the film crew—and the insurance underwriter—the moment the parachute opens and rescues the film star as well as the film.

If you’re interested, a YouTube video  shows how Cruise teamed with the filmmakers to refine this jump over a long period of time to capture the “safest” and most filmable version of the craziest stunt in cinema history. We can’t imagine what will top this in Part Two (which has already been filmed), but I guess that keeps us coming back. And FYI, that cliff jump is just one of the hair-raising scenes, so be prepared. Bring tranquilizers.

Tom Cruise and Vanessa Kirby in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (Paramount Pictures)

And now back to the story. Like the original TV series, each installation opens with a recorded message that introduces the mission and the players, including allies and enemies. In Dead Reckoning, Ethan Hunt must rescue a key that activates an extremely high-tech gizmo called the Entity that has fallen into the wrong hands, not that any hands are the right ones. The Entity seems to be a self-directing AI program that could command the world, though the details remain hazy. Hence … Part Two? But the writers could hardly have chosen a more looming topic. Decades of science fiction about an imaginary robotic future have kept this notion in the public consciousness. And here we are in the 2000s, when AI is no longer fiction and the nightmare of autonomous intelligence that could override its program is a real threat. We need to rewrite the future of our planet. Please alert me when you locate the right screenwriters—I have a list of concerns.

Now back to the movie. Unlike the smaller films that showcase nuanced performances and meticulously engineered storylines, Mission: Impossible is the delivery system for big adventures. The mega “wow.” As well as a nod to the greater good that duels with the greater bad. In Dead Reckoning, the baddest bad guy is Gabriel, portrayed by Esai Morales, a fine actor who won our hearts in NYPD Blue. Gabriel doesn’t care if the key’s function is a mystery. When he gets his hands on it, he’ll figure it out.

The script also delivers some worthy comedy, strategically positioned where we least expect it and need it most. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames continue to play Ethan’s support crew, and they lighten the tone. And then there are surprise twists, like this one: When Ethan is being pursued by other vehicles, he switches cars and foils the chase . . . or does he? This scene is worth the price of admission. I’m still laughing.

Dead Reckoning Part One, along with the previous six M.I. installations, is based on Bruce Geller’s Mission: Impossible TV series on CBS from 1966–1973, starring names you’ll recognize like Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, and Leonard Nimoy. In 1996, Paramount Pictures—producers of the Top Gun movies—updated the series into a film franchise. And they included the dynamic music score by renowned Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin, featuring jazz flute and pulsing percussion in syncopated 5/4 time.

“Dead reckoning,” if you’re wondering, is a method of locating one’s position on land or water, which seems relevant to the opening scene that launches the mission. The film sustains its energy, except in the middle, when the fighting sequences get a little redundant. But nevermind, you’ll ride the thrills all the way to the end. And that is why, my friends, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to see Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. You will be dazzled. And don’t try that cliff jump at home. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.