The Screening Room | Stunning, spectacular 'Mission Impossible: Fallout' delivers

The Screening Room | Stunning, spectacular 'Mission Impossible: Fallout' delivers

The hallmark of the "Mission: Impossible" movies is that it takes its title seriously, setting the bar higher and higher with each entry to show us that what might seem impossible is actually quite doable in the hands of star Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie.

Also improbable but inexplicably true is the fact that this is the rare franchise that has managed to improve with age. After getting off to an awkward start with the first entry in 1996 (too clever for its own good) and the second in 2000 (bloated), the series began to right itself in 2006 with the third film directed by J.J. Abrams, who brought a much-needed sense of fun to these espionage shenanigans. The mantle was passed to "The Incredibles" director Brad Bird for 2011's "Ghost Protocol," and he proved to be equally adept with live-action adventure, and then to McQuarrie for 2015's "Rogue Nation," which showed his eye for the spectacular was just as sharp as his script's witty repartee.

McQuarrie is back for the sixth outing and, as unlikely as it may seem, he may have fashioned the best "Impossible" yet. Plumbing the series' past for narrative inspiration, "Fallout" manages to raise the bar not only with its spectacular stunts but emotionally as well as its main character, Cruise's Ethan Hunt, is forced to come to terms with dire decisions from his past.

The film opens with a mission Hunt decides to accept: Three plutonium cores have gone missing and intelligence shows that a group known as The Apostles, leftover mercenary terrorists from Nation, are out to get them. Seems they want to fashion three warheads to create international mayhem, boilerplate hijinks for films of this sort. Not only are Hunt's cohorts, Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and his new boss, Hunley (Alec Baldwin), out to stop them but two of his former loves, Ilsa and Julia (Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Monaghan), are involved, as is his arch nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the invasive head of the CIA Sloan (Angela Bassett) and her flunky, Walker (Henry Cavill), who's been assigned to keep an eye on Hunt.

There are double-crosses and switcharoos galore, all of which are part-and-parcel of the series. The plot, as clever and entertaining as it is, is inconsequential in these affairs. It is nothing more than a narrative clothesline upon which to hang the many action sequences; and while there's a glut of films of this sort, the makers of this franchise pride themselves on delivering unique and genuinely dangerous moments, making this series the gold standard of the genre.

A hand-to-hand fight between Cruise, Cavill and stuntman Liang Yang is on par with anything Jackie Chan has ever done, while two separate motorcycle chases on the streets of Paris, one of which finds Hunt going against the circular traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, utilize its narrow streets to harrowing claustrophobic effect. As incredible — and I am not using that word lightly — as these sequences are, they are nothing next to the finale that finds two helicopters in a mid-air duel, weaving through snowcapped mountains to a fiery conclusion. In an age in which green screen effects have become the standard in rendering magnificent action scenes, the fact that most of these are created on location in a practical manner makes them all the more impressive.

Cruise's contribution to the series and this entry in particular can't be understated. No one works harder on a movie and his willingness to perform all of his stunts (he broke an ankle while filming "Fallout") brings a realism and sense of risk to the film that increases the tension to a palpable level. His performance is solid as well, as are the efforts by the rest of the cast, though distinguishing between Cavill and a wooden post is, at times, difficult.

The international locations used throughout are astounding and McQuarrie highlights the particular flavor of each of them to great effect. Seeing Hunt run through the streets of London with Big Ben in the background or careening with his motorcycle in Paris' Palais-Royal allows the historic flavor of these locales to impact the action while the final sequences in Norway, standing in for Kashmir, are breathtakingly beautiful. McQuarrie has fashioned not only a great action film but a stunning travelogue that should be seen on the largest screen possible.

To be sure, "Fallout" is too long and walks the razor's edge between drama and parody throughout. Yet, the philosophy of this series is to embrace the ridiculous and run with it, and if the third act comes to resemble a Road Runner cartoon, so be it. No one will mind as Cruise and McQuarrie go out of their way to reward your suspension of disbelief and deliver a handsome, thrilling piece of escapist fare.

Also new in theaters
Riley’s “Sorry” an audacious look at race

Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” has been compared to last year’s lightning rod examination of modern race, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” and it’s easy to see why. The protagonists in each unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a white nightmare in which they may be consumed, their race and personality erased by personal compromise and insidious machinations.

However, the tone of each movie couldn’t be more different as Peele’s film is a slow burn exercise, effectively creating a sense of dread over its running time leading up to its grisly big reveal. “Sorry,” on the other hand, takes place in an alternate reality Oakland that’s familiar but just off-kilter enough to let us know that subtlety will be in short supply. Riley is very much in our face driving home his point about corporate greed and the vulnerable work force it exploits as well as other broadsides aimed at a world that looks very much like our own.

Desperate for a job, Cassius Green (Lakeith David) takes the first opportunity that comes along as a telemarketer with Regel View Industries. It’s never made clear just what he’s selling but he soon finds the secret to success after getting a piece of advice from co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) — use your white voice! Our hero does just that and before you know it, he’s the office superstar and gets the attention of the higher-ups, who quickly make him a “Power Caller.” This is rarified air as Green is now part of the corporate elite, working in posh digs and pulling in commissions in the six figures. The head of the corporation, Steve Lift (an unhinged Armie Hammer), takes note of this and has plans for his sales prodigy.

While all this is going on, a strike is being organized by co-worker Squeeze (Steven Yeun), Green’s girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is pouring her heart and soul into her first art installation and a company known as Worry Free is recruiting families to work and live in their factories, assuring the public with congressional support that this is not a form of modern slavery.

Riley has a great deal on his plate and his ambition is admirable. While the competing themes may not get equal time, his willingness to bring racism, workplace inequality, and passing to the screen is refreshing. Tempted by money and power he could never imagine, Green is forced to question his morality, finding out just how far he’ll bend to serve his masters before he breaks. He finds out in a brutal, shocking manner, only to realize that he may be too late to amend for his past sins.

Riley’s third act jumps the rails, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing or out of synch with the eccentric world he’s created. I didn’t mind the film’s big twist but was annoyed by the ending that seemed a bit too pat and unresolved. There’s a sense the filmmaker realized he’d painted himself into a corner and couldn’t find a way out. No matter, “Sorry” is a daring, bracing work that needs to be seen, as it will be regarded as a key piece of a new, emerging black voice in American cinema.

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