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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, Review: Bond-Bourne amalgamation

Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, Review: Bond-Bourne amalgamation

You couldn’t escape noticing that the Mumbai press preview of Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation was being held at the renovated Fun Republic. Two hours and eleven minutes later, you found out that the film was not about a 'nation', but about international rogues. That stated, for once, the expectations, unconsciously raised by a trivial similarity in the names of the venue and the film, were met.

Inspiration for Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation comes from James Bond (British international secret service MI6, the American-British collaboration, the gadgetry, the villain), the Bourne series (your own secret service out to get you) and, hold your breath please, Casa Blanca (as the locale, modelling the lead actress the lead actress after Ingrid Bergman). Not an easy récipé to cook, by any means, but writer-director Christopher McQuarrie manages to deliver a thrills and frills laden extension of the blockbuster series, often matching and sometimes trumping the four earlier outings.  

After intercepting nerve gas being sold to terrorists, Impossible Missions Force (IMF, not to be confused with the acronym of the International Monetary fund) agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is convinced he can finally prove the existence of the Syndicate, a top secret international criminal consortium. Reporting to an IMF substation in London to receive his next orders, Hunt is captured by the Syndicate, but escapes a torture chamber with the help of disavowed (translated as ‘disowned’ or ‘discredited’) MI6 agent and Syndicate operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Meanwhile, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and IMF agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) appear before a Senate committee, where Hunley demands and succeeds in having the IMF disbanded, and absorbed into the CIA, guaranteeing that Hunt, now declared a fugitive, will be captured in a day.

Cut off from the IMF, Hunt starts following his only lead: a blond man in glasses, who had killed his contact in London and arranged for his abduction. This man is later identified as Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Six months later, Hunt remains on the run, but is unable to trace the Syndicate. He enlists former colleague Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), while Brandt recruits former agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) to find Hunt and prevent Hunley's team from killing him. Using a likeness of Faust left by Hunt, Brandt and Stickell are able to track Hunt, Dunn, and Faust to Morocco, where the three are infiltrating a secure underwater server beneath a power station, in search of a ledger, which, they believe, contains the names of all Syndicate agents.

Writer Bruce Geller wrote Mission: Impossible as a television series way back in 1966. Though James Bond had already become a household name by then, he was not inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels, but by a film, called Tokapi. The series ran for seven years in its first run. MI5 (not the British internal secret service acronym but the present film, in sequence), is co-written by Drew Pearce (who co-wrote Iron Man 3 too) and director McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Way of the Gun, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow). Tom Cruise, who has produced MI: Rogue Nation, is a recurring credit in McQuarrie’s films. The duo went the whole hog, and, as his wont, Tom did most of the stunts himself. If that is true, Cruise probably rates MI higher than life itself on his list of priorities. Hunt’s abduction and subsequent torture, reprised in the end when he faces his arch enemy as an element of organic unity, is probably the weakest bit of writing. Scenes at the staging of the opera Turandot, and the triple whammy assassination plot targetting the Chancellor of Austria, with an “insurance” as Plan D to boot, are classy, albeit overdone and over-drawn. Another familiar trick of the trade, the face-mask disguise, pays dividends, especially since it is introduced and discarded first, and then used a punch-line in the plot.

Land (breath-taking car and motor-cycle chases and topplings), water (Cruise and Fergusson holding their breaths underwater while battling a rotating motor-blade) and air (the rightly touted aeroplane wing-hanger scene, the incredible jump in mid-flight) are all tapped for all the elemental potential they can offer. The time-shift parallel cutting when his assailants are about to nab Hunt is déjà vu. Works well, nevertheless. Ilsa meeting her handler on a park-bench is straight out of at least two films, one of which had a Mossad (Israeli secret service chief) meeting his agent at an identical location. In the opening scene, Benji, a computer wizard, is stumped when the Russian satellite he hacks into displays its computer’s contents in Russian. Not dissimilar to Bonds’s predicament in Tomorrow Never Dies, when he is confronted with a Chinese keyboard, is it?  Ilsa’s character is inspired by her namesake Ilsa from all-time masterpiece, Casablanca, played by the legendary Ingrid Bergman. And, the makers have actually gone to shoot in Casa Blanca. McQuarrie re-does the Ursula Andress’ ‘bikini-clad, dripping, Venus-emerging-from-the-sea’ intro, in the first Bond caper, Dr. No, though Rebecca cannot match Ursula, physically. As climaxes in such high voltage spy dramas go, MI: RN is a bit of a let-down.

At 53, age does show occasionally on Tom’s face, and it will take some believing that the hair, and the about-to-burst biceps and triceps, are real. Otherwise, it is grand hunting for the producer-actor, who has been playing Ethan Hunt for 19 years now. It is for all to see that he has a James Bond fixation, yet the passion and zeal he puts into playing a ‘nothing is impossible for me’ espionage agent is undeniable. No actor has played Bond for so long, though the series took off theyear Cruise was born. Neither has Matt Damon, aka Jason Bourne, completed such a long stint, having arrived only in 2002. If his height (measured as 5’7” or thereabouts, depending upon which scale is used) has ever come in Tom's way, it proves no impediment here.

Among the acting honours, one goes to Rebecca Ferguson (I was waiting to discover, as I did, that she is Swedish; aged 31, her only previous American movie was Hercules). Ferguson learned from Tom Cruise and did a lot of her own stunts. “I had vertigo and I did a 120-foot free fall,” she reveals. Bravo, Rebecca. Besides the stunts, she has a powerful personality, oozing sensuality, without cheapening herself. The other honour goes to Sean Harris (at 6 feet, he is 5” taller than Cruise; work includes Prometheus and The Goob). McQuarrie had seen Sean in Harry Brown, and he felt the English actor was absolutely fantastic. But he was not interested in being in some franchise movie, or being a franchise actor. McQuarrie was bent upon the choice, and convinced him after great effort. Unconventional features, a raspy voice, a vacuous, megalomaniacal look, Harris, cast in the Bond villain dye, gives Lane a shape of his own.

Ever-reliable Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, MI: The Ghost Protocol, The Town, The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy) and Simon Pegg (real name Simon John Beckingham, English actor; seen in Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek films) provide competent support. Ving Rhames (a rivetting Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction; Con Air, Mission: Impossible series) plays Luther Stickell (name, name!), his imposing personality taking a back-seat to his friendship with Hunt and his IT acumen.

Alec Balwdin  (full name Alexander Rae Baldwin III, appeared in Beetlejuice, The Hunt for Red October, Blue Jasmine, Rock of the Ages--with Tom Cruise). Both McQuarrie and Cruise agreed that he was just the player for this part. In the role of Atlee (remember a British Prime Minister with that surname?), Head of MI6, we have Simon McBurney (American father, English mother; Harry Potter series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Robin Hood), understated and matter-of-fact. As the British Prime Minister, Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Valkyrie, The Riot Club) does his bit well.

The musical score for Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation was composed by Joe Kraemer, who previously collaborated with director McQuarrie on The Way of the Gun and Jack Reacher. It incorporates suspense specialist, Argentinean composer Lalo (Boris Claudio) Schifrin(Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Enter the Dragon, Tango, Rush Hour, 2, 3)'s thematic material from the television series, throughout the score. Schifrin created the GRAMMY winning soundtrack 48 years ago. The piano maestro and jazz devotee, now 83, is always up to the task, and Kraemer adds some exciting bits of his own.

In summation, this Bond-Bourne amalgamation is both palatable and enjoyable.


Rating: ***1/2


#Alibaba Pictures, owned by Chinese magnate Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, is making its first Hollywood movie investment, partnering with Viacom Inc subsidiary Paramount Pictures, to promote the film in China. In January this year, Alibaba announced its first movie project, a romance, to be produced by Wong Kar-Wai.

# It was announced on October 6, 2014, that Chinese actress Jingchu Zhang, (Rush Hour 3, City of War: The John Rabe Story; speaks fluent English) has joined the cast of “Mission: Impossible 5,” in a major role opposite Tom Cruise. Her role was supposedly being kept secret as it was integral to a major plot twist. After the release of the film, the role still remains a secret. Unless, of course, you call appearing for a few seconds on the screen as a ‘major role’.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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