Without going to IMDb or Wikipedia, can you describe the plot of Mission: Impossible? I know, it’s probably been a few years since you’ve last seen the suspenseful, 90s-era thriller, but try and think about what the movie was actually, well, about. Go on, I’ll give you a few seconds… Having trouble? Yeah, me too. See, I’ve watched Mission: Impossible countless times over the decades and I still can’t exactly tell you what’s going on. I played extremely close attention to every plot development, every subtle glance and glare from Tom Cruise’s paranoid Ethan Hunt, but still can’t quite piece it together. And even after reading through the synopsis on Wikipedia and IMDb, it still doesn’t quite make sense to me.
It’s bizarre, because Mission: Impossible spends so much time painstakingly detailing every action and emphasizing just how important it is, but fails to connect these events in a logical manner that we can understand. This isn’t some sort of Avant Garde plot experiment by Brian de Palma, nor is it like a spy thriller where the answers to the questions are lurking in the details. Plot wise, Mission: Impossible is the cinematic equivalent of hearing a mechanic tell you what is specifically wrong with your car. You have no idea what a timing belt or a carburetor is, you just know they are important and you need to pay $500 now to get them fixed.
This shouldn’t suggest that Mission: Impossible isn’t entertaining. In fact, its thrilling. Every scene is so magnificently dense with tension it creates a gravitational pull where you’re quite literally on the edge of your seat. De Palma’s use of off-angle shots generates a natural unease in us, making us suspicious of every character, even Hunt. And the thrilling sequence where Hunt dangles from flimsy cord in the CIA headquarters is truly the stuff of cinematic legend, a stunt so well-executed and so masterfully edited that it no amount of CGI or 21st century special effects could improve it. Much of de Palma’s stuff is corny, cheeseball nonsense, melodramatic to the extreme that we can’t help but chuckle. In this sequence, it’s apparent that when he really wants to, de Palma can conjure Hitchcockian levels of suspense, proving he holds a natural flair at making us squeeze and squirm to our utter delight. Mission: Impossible may not make sense, but it’s a feat for the senses.