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Mission: Impossible: Special Edition

If the year 2005 will be remembered for much of anything in pop-culture lore, it will be the year that Tom Cruise went publicly daft. Which is not a small thing, mind you — arguably the most powerful star in the Hollywood system for a good 20 years, perfect Tommy has strung up more number-one openings and consecutive $100 million grosses than any other marquee player, and the vast majority of his work is very, very good, thanks to his careful selection of directors and his undeniable talent. He's also a notoriously private person who prefers to reveal himself to his public on screen, or in select high-profile interviews. That is… until 2005, when Cruise (a) jumped on Oprah's furniture; (b) called Matt Lauer "glib"; (c) got into a public spat with Brooke Shields; and (d) romanced Katie Holmes in the public eye to such a degree that a lot of people thought the whole thing was a publicity stunt. It didn't take long for Cruise's star to tarnish, for his antics to become the subject of late-night wisecracks, for his public to suspect that he might be a little bit… weird. Not that weird is bad. In fact, Cruise's newfound verbosity makes him infinitely more interesting than he used to be, lending nuance to the complicated, secretly wounded men he's portrayed in Magnolia and Collateral — he likely could replace his fleet of motorcycles and airplanes over the next decade were he to do nothing more than take on complex/disreputable/antagonistic roles and then give impromptu interviews. However, it remains to be seen if Oprah viewers and Paxil users will still accept Tom Cruise in his one franchise, Mission: Impossible, which audiences flocked to in 1996. You know — before the, um, weirdness.

Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible kicks off with a stock setup and never loses steam. Russian operative Alexander Golitsyn (Marcel Iures) plans to steal a list of American NOC ("non-official cover") agents, who are planted throughout eastern Europe, and then sell it to the highest bidder. However, when it becomes clear he intends to infiltrate the U.S. Embassy in Prague, an elite Impossible Missions Force team is assembled for countermeasures — joining the team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) are his wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart), Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), systems hacker Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez), and the point man, Ethan Hunt (Cruise). But when the attempt to isolate Golitsyn at a gala ball goes haywire, Ethan is called in from the cold by agency director Kittridge (Henry Czerny), who reveals that Ethan himself is a suspected mole. Choosing to run rather than cooperate, Ethan then goes "black" as he tries to determine the identity of the real mole, known as "Job," and of the mysterious arms dealer "Max." However, he realizes the only way he'll have any leverage is to steal the real NOC list from the agency's computer vault, requiring the help of two more black agents, helicopter pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) and hacker Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).

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Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" DVD of Mission: Impossible — which supports the theatrical release of 2006's Mission: Impossible III — contains, among its many supplements, two awards montages highlighting Tom Cruise's career. And for those not routinely aware of his filmography, the effect is somewhat stunning. Not only has Cruise starred in a consistent string of critical and financial successes, but in this compressed space one realizes just how powerful his screen presence is. From Risky Business to The Firm, Rain Man, Magnolia, and beyond, there's something intrinsically magnetic about not just his acting ability, but his movie star gift — like Cary Grant, Cruise has perfected ways of presenting variations of his public self on film, most often in redemptive fables. And if anything makes Mission: Impossible seem flawed in retrospect, it isn't Scientology or Katie Holmes or his opinions on prescription medicine, but simply because there doesn't seem to be enough of Tom Cruise in the movie itself. At times, flashes of his winning cockiness appear, moments when it seems we're watching Vince in The Color of Money, certain he's about to run a table on his opponent. But Cruise has always depended on the kindness of directors, and Mission: Impossible is very much a slick, collaborate effort rather than the intimate sort of picture that flatters him best. Even if it doesn't rank with his most innovative work, Brian De Palma's signature is found on almost every shot, in particular his use of Dutch angles and some subtle crane tracking, and the overall effect is complemented by Danny Elfman's orchestral scoring, particularly in the first act. Robert Towne re-worked David Koepp's original treatment, giving the production two veteran screenwriters. The overall effect is both brisk and entertaining, charting a course among Le Carré, Ludlum, and Fleming archetypes. And the three-act structure is solid, with the rogue agent template giving way to a heist flick and then the final series of double-crosses. The only thing that doesn't work as well as it should is the famous final sequence on the Chunnel train, which not only doesn't seem to fit with De Palma's more cerebral instincts, but also squanders some well-earned suspension of disbelief for reality-defying CGI. But even if Cruise remains center stage throughout, De Palma is given his opportunity to shine, not only with the exploding aquarium sequence, but also his ability to mine suspense from silence and simple things like a rat, a knife, and a bead of sweat.

Paramount's DVD release of Mission: Impossible: Special Collector's Edition features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Several brief featurettes are on board, including "Mission: Remarkable: 40 Years of Creating the Impossible" (11 min.), "Mission: Explosive Exploits" (5 min.), "Mission: International Spy Museum" (6 min.), "Mission: Spies Among Us" (8 min.), "Mission: Catching the Train" (2 min.), "Excellence in Film: Cruise" (9 min.), "Acceptance Speech for BAFTA/LA's Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film" (3 min.), "Generation: Cruise" (3 min.), and "Acceptance Speech for MTV's Generation Award" (3 min.). Also on hand are "Agent Dossiers," Theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a stills gallery. Keep-case.
—JJB



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