Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Sherbedgia, Ving Rhames, John Polson, William Mapother, Dominic Purcell, Mathew Wilkinson, Nicholas Bell, Kee Chan, Kim Fleming, Anthony Hopkins
Written by: Robert Towne, based on a story by Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga
Directed by: John Woo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some sensuality
Running Time: 123
Date: 05/24/2000

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

John Woo's Accomplished 'Mission'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Now Summer can officially start. John Woo's M:I-2 (a.k.a. Mission: Impossible II), starring Tom Cruise is an outstanding movie. You may read some negative reviews, but trust me, this is the real thing. After sitting through the butchery of Romeo Must Die, Frequency, Gladiator, and Battlefield Earth, I don't even need to say how refreshing it was to see action scenes filmed in such a way that they were not only visible, but poetic as well. I will long remember the image of Tom Cruise kicking at the ground and snatching a much-needed gun out of a slow-motion geyser of sand.

First off, forget what you know about Mission: Impossible. I've heard people complain about Brian De Palma's slick and exciting 1996 film because "it's not like the TV show." M:I-2; is not only unlike the TV show, it's also unlike the first movie or any other movie you've seen lately. Woo is not concerned with telling a Mission: Impossible story. He has found a way to make his characters Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) into distinctive Woo-ian figures. This movie is more concerned with powerhouse emotions than plot twists.

Written by Robert Towne (based on a story by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore) M:I-2 concerns a new threat to world peace in the form of a deadly virus (which, of course, has an antidote as well). Taking a major cue from Ben Hecht's and Alfred Hitchcock's classic Notorious (1946), Ethan's superior (Anthony Hopkins) assigns him to track down a girl named Nyah to infiltrate her old boyfriend's (Dougray Scott) hideout and find out what he knows. Like that earlier movie, there's even a scene at the horse races where Ethan and Nyah attempt to talk without the evil boyfriend knowing. Later, there's a small homage to Rear Window (1954) as Ethan breaks into the chemical facility that holds the virus, and his partner (Ving Rhames) is unable to contact him to warn him that trouble is on the way. Halfway through, a turn of events takes the story from Alfred Hitchcock back to John Woo involving Woo's regular themes of pride, self-sacrifice, and honor.

Cruise looks great in the film, and apparently did quite a lot of training to accommodate Woo's action scenes. He does some absolutely amazing stunts and moves including the patented double-gun shot, some rock-climbing, and some very tricky motorcycle riding. Newton, coming off critical acclaim in Jonathan Demme's Beloved (1998) and Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged (1999), re-invents herself as a deliriously beautiful ingenue. During a Flamenco dance in a nightclub, she gracefully uses the stamps of the dancers' boots to cover her own footsteps as she steals upstairs to snatch a jeweled necklace. The screen lights up with a rare, and much appreciated, interracial romance between Cruise and Newton.

Those who disliked this movie owe that to a basic misunderstanding of John Woo. To most of Hollywood, and most of America, he is simply an "action director", lumped in with the likes of, say, Paul Verhoeven, Roland Emmerich, Tony Scott, or Michael Bay. What sets him apart is not only his beautifully choreographed and completely clear action scenes, but also his strong emotional grandiosity. The characters engage in operatic larger-than-life gestures. One scene in M:I-2 has Ethan infiltrating the bad guys' hideout flanked by a flock of white doves, providing a visual contrast to the violence (the doves fly away before any violence occurs).

While Americans tend to demand realism, Woo's pageantry is accepted in the Hong Kong films. When, at the end of The Killer (1989), the recently blinded Chow Yun-Fat and the blind girl he's been trying to save crawl in the dirt towards each other, shouting each other's names, and are ultimately unable to find one another, it's devastating. The climax of M:I-2 is not dissimilar to that grand tragic scene, and yet some of the people I saw it with were snickering.

In the end, it's more exciting that I'm alone in my adoration for M:I-2. I'm suspicious of movies that everyone likes anyway. M:I-2 is one of the most exceptional and memorable films of the year. It contains treasures for those of us who can see them; Cruise's extraordinary screen presence, Newton's dewy sexuality; and clear and beautiful action scenes punctuated with operatic moments like cries of fury to an unfeeling universe. These are feelings larger than we're used to. How often are we asked to open our hearts up to an action movie?

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