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Laramie Movie Scope:
Mission Impossible 2

The action movie of the year faces off again

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 24, 2000 -- This is the action movie of the year, maybe the best in several years. It is trying to be the next Bond-type franchise series and if the next one is anywhere near this good, it may succeed.

"Mission Impossible 2" has such audacious, such outrageously effective stuntwork, camera work, editing and special effects it will blow you away. The first "Mission Impossible" film had good stunts and special effects too, but the story was a hopeless wreck. This film has a solid story, backed by good acting and charismatic characters.

There are a number of similarities to an earlier film by the same director, John Woo, "Face/Off." As in "Face/Off" we see a lot of faces coming off, revealing other faces underneath. As in that film, we see that the hero and the villain sometimes turn out to have the same face, and even the same voice, at times. We also see pigeons and doves fluttering around during key confrontations, so many, in fact, I was surprised the actors weren't covered with bird droppings. Woo seems to like this symbolism in his films.

We also see the two-fisted gunfire in some action scenes that are another Woo trademark. Woo, a veteran Hong Kong action film director, in this film at last finds a way to bring his high action, ultra-violent, operatic emotional techniques to a Hollywood film with the full force he had in his best Hong Kong work, such as "The Killer." His work isn't subtle, but it is very effective when done right, and this film is done right.

The heart of the film is the relationship between super secret agent Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise of "Eyes Wide Shut" and Magnolia" and a beautiful thief, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton of "Beloved"). Hunt recruits her for a difficult mission. Hunt first sees Nyah across a dance floor in Spain. The whirling costume of a flamenco dancer cuts off his vision of the girl, once, twice, three times and more. The editing is done precisely as the colorful cloth sweeps across the screen. We cut back and forth to see each of the actors in turn looking at the other. The emotional music and dancing builds to a crescendo. It is a wonderful bit of editing by Christian Wagner, A.C.E & Steven Kemper. It helps set up the rest of the film, which has to do with Hunt and his team recovering a deadly virus stolen by a double-crossing former IM agent.

The cinematography by Jeffrey Kimball is also excellent in this film. There are a number of difficult shots from helicopters and other vantage points, ranging from car chases in California, to rock climbing in Utah, to dueling motorcycles in Australia. At times, the cameras seem to circle around the action, even during car chases and in other situations where this must have been very difficult to do. Slow-motion photography, another John Woo trademark, is used to good effect to highlight the ballet-like action scenes. This same device was used effectively in last year's best action film, "The Matrix." From lush colors of a festival in Spain to high tech laboratory in Australia, even the night shots are clear and sharp, and the colors are saturated. There is none of that dark, muddy look that you see so much of these days. Of course that dark look is often done to obscure cheap set designs. There is no reason to hide the wonderful production design by Thomas E. Sanders (he previously did design work for "Saving Private Ryan").

The stunts in this film are simply astonishing. When you are going up against the Bond films, you have to do some really outstanding stunts to top those films. This film has excellent stunts and special effects from beginning to end. The stunt coordinator is Brian Smrz who was also stunt coordinator of "Face/Off" and was the assistant stunt coordinator of "Speed," another great action film. Tom Cruise did most of his own stunts, including an outrageous rock-climbing stunt near the beginning of the film. I say outrageous because most of these action sequences are impossible. They are way over the top. You know it is trick, but it is entertaining just the same. Again, this is along the same lines as the Bond films, which have had their share of impossible action scenes.

There is real chemistry between Cruise and Thandie Newton. That chemistry is the fire that lights up the movie, the energy that keeps it moving. Newton, with her Madonna-like smile does a good job of portraying charm, vulnerability and mental toughness. She isn't just a pretty face either. In the movie she comes up with a daring move to help resolve a standoff. Anyone who saw her remarkable performance in "Beloved," knows what a great actress she is.

Also appearing in the film are a great villain, an IM agent gone bad, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott of "Ever After"). Ving Rhames of "Bringing Out the Dead" provides some comic relief in the film. Rhames reprises his role of the well-dressed Luther Stickell from the original "Mission Impossible" movie. The last member of the IM team is Billy Baird, the copter pilot, played with a comic twist by John Polson. The fine actor Brendan Gleeson ("Braveheart") also appears in the film, along with Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, who has a minor role as Swanbeck, the guy who hands out the IM assignments. This film is loaded with talent from top to bottom, it rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)