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Mission Impossible III: Collector's Edition

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in Mission: Impossible III. Tom Cruise also stars in the 2006 film, along with a solid supporting cast, a twist-and-turn script, and plenty of nerve-wracking action sequences. But that's almost beside the point. Hoffman is the most interesting element in this particular alchemy, both for his instinctive gifts as an actor and because his star is very much in ascension, while some would contend that Tom Cruise's celebrity has begun to decline. Few movies with a "III" after the title promise much in the way of innovation, and Cruise was the marquee player in the first two entries of the Mission: Impossible franchise. After this third foray, which failed to earn back its reported $150 million budget in domestic release (but was profitable worldwide), Cruise was, er, "let go" from his longtime production deal at Paramount, and by no less than Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, who cited Cruise's "behavior unacceptable" — reportedly a response to the star's notable publicity snafus during his engagement to Katie Holmes. However, Cruise's star has yet to fall below the horizon, and his talent remains formidable — even in his weakest films, he's been consistently profitable, and in pictures such as Magnolia and Collateral he's displayed acting chops that have barely been seen since his energetic turn in The Color of Money. Nonetheless, Philip Seymour Hoffman (who appeared with Cruise in Magnolia) is a notable screen presence made bona fide by his Oscar win in Capote. Some might suspect that MI3 looked like a pretty good paycheck to him, although here he's simply partaking in a bit of Hollywood tradition — the respected actor who's drawn to the particular challenges of making a matinee villain more interesting than the script suggests (following in the footsteps of Alan Rickman and Anthony Hopkins, among others). Of course, MI3 is a Tom Cruise picture from start to finish. But despite that fact that Hoffman is barely seen during the story's first half, he's clearly the hole-card that Cruise and director J.J. Abrams want to flip at the right moment.

After a very thoughtful pre-credit scene that invites the viewers to puzzle out the rest of the movie as it plays, Mission: Impossible III begins as Ethan Hunt (Cruise) celebrates his engagement to physician Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) with family and friends. Julia knows nothing of Ethan's secret-agent career (he pretends he's a Dept. of Transportation traffic analyst), and besides, Ethan has retired from field duty, now training new agents for the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). However, when it's determined that agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) has been abducted by rogue arms dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman), Ethan agrees to return to service, abetted by IMF operatives Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q). However, a snatch-and-grab op in Berlin has mixed results, causing IMF chief Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) to drop the hammer on Ethan and ops director Musgrave (Billy Crudup). In response, Ethan plans to kidnap Davian himself, who's expected to appear at a charity event in Vatican City, where he will purchase something called the "rabbit's foot," a possible doomsday device. However, a "microdot" sent from Lindsay is decoded by Luther far too late, revealing unexpected information on exactly who Davian is working for.

*          *          *

It's difficult to comprehend how a $132 million domestic gross for any film can be considered a disappointment, unless we take into account Hollywood's inflated standards of success, which are perilously balanced between massive production budgets and equally huge opening-weekend rollouts, where 72 hours of box-office receipts will cause a film to earn additional marketing money or simply a hookup to a financial EKG by lunch on Monday. MI3 did not match the $215 million that its precedessor earned, although it's arguably the best film of the three franchise entries. Cruise even broke with his own instincts by hand-picking writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams ("Alias", "Lost") from the ranks of nighttime TV drama to helm his first feature film, rather than teaming up with the sort of veteran directors that have watched over his career. Abrams' presence at the helm of one of the most expensive movies ever made reveals more than ever that television, and not independent film, is Hollywood's new proving ground, and his script contributions (in particular with that unforgettable opening scene) make him just as valuable as Brian De Palma's tradecraft in Mission: Impossible or Jon Woo's arch stylism in Mission: Impossible II, both serviceable entertainments in their own right. The taut opening ensures that our brief look into Ethan Hunt's domestic life won't be as dull as it seems on paper, and the payoffs begin to mount up quickly, including the Berlin extraction followed by a helicopter chase, the Vatican kidnapping, an attack on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and a final mission to Shanghai. Both the location work and Cruise's willingness to perform his own stunts give the movie the added bonuses that may not be readily apparent; even better, our look at Ethan's relationship with Julia ensures that his stake in matters is more than merely professional. MI3 does not disappoint as high-summer entertainment, and while Tom Cruise continues to deliver the reliable work he's constructed his persona on, it's Philip Seymour Hoffman who earns some of the movie's best moments with his notable understatement — his menace is not derived from anger or a sneering disregard for others, but rather the sort of palpable boredom that can make the best villains completely terrifying.

Paramount's two-disc Mission: Impossible III: Special Collector's Edition offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in English and French. Disc One includes a chatty, personable commentary track with Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams, who clearly enjoyed making the film and working together. Also on hand is "The Making of the Mission" (28 min.), five deleted scenes with a "play all" option, and a look at Cruise accepting a 2005 BAFTA award for "Excellence in Film" with a montage of his filmography (9 min.). Disc Two includes eight additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, as well as theatrical trailers, TV spots, a stills gallery, and "Generation Cruise" with Cruise's 2005 appearance at the MTV movie awards. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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