Mission: Impossible (1996)
Mission: Impossible (1996)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: May 22nd, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Brian De Palma Actors: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny, Ingeborga Dapkunaite




n Kiev, undercover agents covertly interrogate a man to get the name of his contact. They manufacture a fake death scene, utilize potent drugs, and even don highly realistic masks that they peel away to reveal almost comically youthful faces underneath. This cold open is immediately strange, not only because it ends anticlimactically, without a big bang, but also because it transitions into a title sequence comprised of quick clips of footage from the very movie that’s about to play out. Thankfully, the popular, catchy, uncommon-time-signature theme music kicks in – a special treat for fans of the series that inspired this feature.

A follow-up task finds IMF boss Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) accepting another impossible mission, requiring that his team deploys to Prague to intercept an attache at the embassy who plans to sell a list of spies. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott-Thomas), Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez), and Hannah (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) take up positions inside the headquarters, some disguised as politicians and guests, others as secreted hackers or lookouts, collecting data and controlling building security. Somewhat expectedly, the mission gets out of hand, resulting in an ambush, the loss of agents, compromised intel, and a rather public display of destruction. “Abort!”

Like in James Bond’s adventures, this picture boasts gadgets (such as explosive gum and camera watches and communication scrambling devices), spycraft, disguises, and suspense. It also offers up the television show’s signature self-destruct mechanisms. But there’s a disappointing use of flashbacks to fill the audience in on things they missed (this maneuver suggests they’re too stupid to follow them in real-time); a few nonsensical lines of dialogue, such as when so-called top agents reiterate that oh-four-hundred is the same as 4:00; and Ethan’s curious overconfidence in the presence of murderers, resulting in an absurd exchange of wide smiles. It’s a shame that there are obvious intellectual missteps, considering this is a movie about the most elite, specialized operatives the government has to offer.

Fortunately, a mole-hunt morphs into an engaging mystery, complete with double-crosses (or triple-crosses?), dangerous groups of killers, and some disavowed agents as backup (including cyberterrorists Krieger [Jean Reno] and Luther [Ving Rhames]). Plus, the enthusiastic, thundering music returns regularly, boosting the effectiveness of potentially duller sequences. There is, however, a growing sense of meaninglessly impossible jobs full of over-the-top security measures seemingly devised on the spot, just to see if Ethan and company can accomplish ludicrously difficult feats of top-secret penetration. Nevertheless, many of these moments are amusing, generating considerable tension as things inevitably go wrong, threatening to derail the whole operation. “Relax, Luther. It’s much worse than you think.”

Despite the faults in a few details and some overly contrived designs (as well as the return of the pesky flashbacks), director Brian De Palma has crafted a nicely twisty little thriller. At times, it’s a touch too complicated for its own good (some of Ethan’s visualized hypotheses are arranged to be purposely confusing), but the notion that no one can be trusted is largely effective. Sadly, the big reveal of this film depends on a gimmick that is incredibly unconvincing, while the climax hinges on a stunt sequence that is outrageously unreal, ending on a sour note – as opposed to a genuinely awe-inspiring bit of action.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10

The Mission: Impossible Franchise

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)