Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

I used to love Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow). He’s always been a capable actor, but I think people are reluctant to elevate him to the upper echelon of Hollywood elite when it comes to talent. Make no mistake, he’s an undeniable superstar – but that just means he’s popular and his movies do well. I think he’s talented, but his thespian skillset is overshadowed by the perception of him as action star. I credit him with a knack for self-deprecation and an overwhelming commitment to his craft, evidenced by the fact that he’s long performed his own stunts. Action movies are in his wheelhouse, so I was excited to see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (aka Mission Impossible 5).

The franchise began with an emphasis on espionage and has since become more reliant on action. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be much consistency with characters from one movie to the next, other than Cruise as steadfast superspy Ethan Hunt. This time around the IMF (Hunt’s covert employer) is on thin ice, with its leader William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, Avengers: Age of Ultron) clashing with CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, Aloha) after a mission to recover a nuclear weapon is unsuccessful. The film’s opening sequence details Hunt’s attempt to stop a moving plane from absconding with the deadly missile. Intel reveals that a rogue “nation” known as The Syndicate has stolen the weapon in order to execute terror attacks against Western allies. Complicating matters even further is the fact that the head of The Syndicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, Prometheus) has ties to British Intelligence and the IMF, utilizing disavowed agents from both agencies.

One such agent is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), formerly of British Intelligence. She and Ethan both want to stop Lane, but we aren’t sure if she’s friend or foe. One minute she’s helping Ethan escape The Syndicate, the next minute it looks like she’s doing their bidding in an assassination attempt against the Austrian Prime Minister. In one of the movie’s better scenes, Ethan foils the assassination attempt at the opera; deftly battling spies atop a catwalk while the audience watches the performance, completely unaware. That scene reflected all that’s great about the franchise (action, clever plot development, suspense), but unfortunately that level of tension was not maintained throughout the film.

I thought the movie suffered in its third act, when it got a little too smart for its own good. There was one twist and turn too many, and little things just didn’t add up for me. I know that a good spy movie should keep you guessing, but the plot quickly went from simple to complicated, which wasn’t necessary. Ethan Hunt felt like a poor man’s Jason Bourne, and although the action scenes were top notch – I still found myself bored as the movie wore on. The interplay between Ethan and Ilsa was fun to watch, but for me the movie was a bit of a mixed bag. I wasn’t disappointed, but it wasn’t quite as good as I thought it would be. Grade: B



Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) is becoming one of my favorite actors, though I’ll admit that I may have been slow to recognize his abilities. I’d always thought he turned in good performances, but it wasn’t until last year’s Nightcrawler that I finally realized how talented he is. When I think about his career thus far, I’m most impressed by his versatility. From Donnie Darko to Brokeback Mountain to Jarhead– he transforms himself completely on screen. In Antoine Fuqua’s latest offering Southpaw, Gyllenhaal is masterful as Billy Hope, a boxer whose life unravels in the wake of tragedy.

Billy Hope embodies the rags to riches bootstrapping ethos of many professional athletes. He overcame a rough childhood in foster care, rising to the pinnacle of his sport as an undefeated world champion. He remains loyal to his childhood friends and his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams, Aloha), who was also raised in the system. They live in a huge mansion with their ten-year-old daughter Leila, enjoying all the trappings of Billy’s success while remaining true to their humble beginnings.

Trash-talk and boxing go hand in hand, so initially Billy is dismissive when challenged by upstart Miguel “Magic” Escobar, who wants a shot at the title. Billy tries to laugh off Escobar’s assertion that he’s “never been hit by a real man,” but his newfound nemesis is relentless in his provocation. After a particularly nasty insult aimed at Maureen, a brawl between the fighters and their respective camps ensues. Shots ring out in the fracas, and Maureen is fatally wounded. In the aftermath of this devastating tragedy, Billy completely unravels. Consumed by grief, he is incapable of being the support system Leila so desperately needs after the loss of her mother. When she is taken into child protective services, Billy has no one to blame but himself. Will he regain custody? Does he have any hope of resurrecting his career?

Southpaw’s strength literally and figuratively lies with Gyllenhaal. From the physical transformation he endured to mirror a prizefighter to the intonation and dialect he employed in his dialogue delivery – he completely immersed himself in the role. Forest Whitaker (Out of the Furnace) was also reliably effective in his supporting role as a trainer who helps Billy right the ship. However, although I enjoyed Southpaw, I didn’t absolutely love it. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after mulling it over for a few days; I think the movie was almost too straightforward. Writer Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) needn’t have overcomplicated the story, but its resolution was a bit too tidy. Billy’s entire world went to shit. His wife, child, home, and livelihood were all ripped from him. The manner in which these conflicts were resolved was too streamlined. There were no plot twists, nothing unexpected.

I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know if you’ve seen the trailer. Gyllenhaal’s commitment to the role was evidenced by his physical transformation, and the boxing scenes were frighteningly realistic. But how are we supposed to believe that a fighter who had been defeated so thoroughly could bounce back so quickly? A good movie, but not a great one. Grade: B+