Film: Mission Impossible III

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Mission Impossible III

Director: J.J. Abrams
Distributor: Paramount Home Video

Tom Cruise returns as Special Agent Ethan Hunt, who faces the mission of his life in “Mission: Impossible III.” Director J. J. Abrams (“Lost”,“ ”Alias") brings his unique blend of action and drama to the billion-dollar franchise.


At the time of its release, Mission: Impossible III's box office was plagued by the publicity backlash against couch-jumping star Tom Cruise. It’s too bad, because this third installment of the spy thriller franchise deserved a better reception than it got. First-time feature director J.J. Abrams (bigwig TV director/producer of Lost, Alias, & Felicity) proves more than able-bodied in creating a Mission: Impossible that’s leaner and less over-stylized than John Woo’s sequel and less confusing than Brian De Palma’s original. Plot is still a throwaway here (Cruise’s Ethan Hunt rescues his kidnapped former trainee and works to steal a device that…well, we don’t really know what it does, but it’s something about mass destruction that costs $850 million), but the action sequences, particularly one where Ethan faces down a helicopter on a bridge and gets flung hard against the side of a car, are particularly impressive since Cruise, at 44, is still doing most of his own stunts and shows no hint of the weathered look that’s struck his action-star peers. (Though no Mission: Impossible stunt will ever be quite as simultaneously nail-biting and funny as the first film’s wire-dangling break-in of CIA headquarters.)

Mission: Impossible III boasts a pedigreed cast, particularly Oscar® winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as baddie arms dealer Owen Davian. Hoffman plays Owen all teeth-clenched and cool, especially when threatening to kill Ethan in front of his lovely new wife (Michelle Monaghan) who has no idea of his spy life. But in his first action-film lead role, Hoffman’s almost too calm and collected to really make a memorable villain, especially when the rest of the cast—Ving Rhames (the only other cast member to return for all three films), Asian film star Maggie Q, and an underused Jonathan Rhys-Meyers—are a highlight as Ethan’s IMF team. Mission: Impossible is still fun popcorn spy fare, and if Cruise chooses to end the franchise here, at least he goes out on a high note. —Ellen A. Kim

Barnes and Noble

Though not lacking in action—indeed, this installment boasts some of the series’ most elaborate set pieces—Mission: Impossible III emphasizes characterization more than its predecessors did, raising the film far above the level of the typical “popcorn movie.” As the story begins, Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has retired from field work and begun training younger operatives. When one of them, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), is captured while on assignment, Ethan is unable to rescue her but manages to snare brilliant, remorseless arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This is just the prelude: Upon escaping from custody, the revenge-seeking Davian embarks on his biggest caper yet and kidnaps Ethan’s fiancée, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), knowing full well that Hunt will follow and, eventually, walk into his trap. In the skillful hands of Hoffman, for our money one of the best actors working in films today, the villain becomes far more believable -- and therefore more frightening -- than run-of-the-mill, two-dimensional, action-movie bad guys. The scenes in which he confronts Cruise’s character are unusually chilling, and the viewer has no trouble believing him supremely capable of making good on his blood-curdling threats. Having an actor of Hoffman’s caliber opposite him spurs Cruise to new flights of histrionic fancy, and his performance is markedly better than it was in the second installment. Director J. J. Abrams (Lost) gives his two stars plenty of elbow room, figuratively speaking, without losing sight of what this franchise needs to deliver: high-tech gadgetry, supercharged chase sequences, and physically demanding feats of derring-do. Ving Rhames is back as transportation specialist Luther Stickell, and series newcomers Jonathan Rhys-Meyer and Maggie Q make small but significant contributions as recent additions to the IMF team. Faster, smarter, and more emotionally engaging than most of today’s action thrillers, M:I III ups the ante considerably for future films in this popular genre. Ed Hulse

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