Mission: Impossible [1996]

A flashy, splashy summer-movie blockbuster that's fun and exciting without being mindless? That's the impossible mission accomplished by director Brian De Palma, star-coproducer Tom Cruise, and the crack team of Mission: Impossible. Based on the '60s TV show and an almost impenetrably complex (but nonetheless thrilling) original story by David Koepp (Jurassic Park) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List), with a screenplay by Koepp and Robert Towne (Chinatown, Shampoo), Mission: Impossible begins with veteran agent Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) and his expert crew embarking on a mission that goes horribly, horribly wrong. But nothing is what it seems. The nail-biting set piece--always a signature of director De Palma (Carrie, The Untouchables)--in which Cruise is lowered from the ceiling to retrieve information from a computer in a high-security vault--is an instant classic. But perhaps even more impressive, at least in retrospect, is a flashback sequence in which two characters attempt to reconstruct a series of events from multiple points of view. It's pretty daring and sophisticated stuff for a big-budget spy movie, but brains were always what put the Mission: Impossible team ahead of the competition, anyway, no? --Jim Emerson

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