Movie reviews: Cruise returns with next-level stunts in ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

David James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance via AP

 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT: 4 ½ STARS

Writing a review for “Mission Impossible – Fallout” gave my thesaurus a workout. The film, the sixth instalment in the Tom Cruise franchise, is jammed to the gills with next-level stunts that require an expanded vocabulary to describe. Words like ‘extreme’ or ‘exciting’ or even ‘epic’ (and those are only the ‘e’ words) don’t come close to describing the behemothic action sequences contained within.

Cruise returns as the seemingly invincible action man and IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt. Hunt and his crew, tech wiz Benji (Simon Pegg) and agent Luther (Ving Rhames), are charged with finding and capturing anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a baddie who was the leader of the Syndicate during the last film, “Rogue Nation.” “Whatever you heard about Lane,” explains Hunt, “if it makes your skin crawl it’s probably true.” Lane is working with the mysterious and murderous John Lark, a man with some extreme ideas about squashing the world order.

As Lark and Lane collect the necessary plutonium to fulfil their plan the CIA begins to have doubts about Hunt’s loyalty. Add to that the return of former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and some newbies, CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) and black market arms dealer and lady of mystery White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) and you have lots of characters to fill the space between the stunts. Complicating matters is the fallout from some of Hunt’s previous, well-intentioned missions.

There are a lot of very good-looking people in “Mission Impossible – Fallout.” Handsome fellas and femme fatale‘s, they are all woven into a stylish story of international intrigue and plutonium. Like the others “MI” movies it’s packed with exotic locations—only James Bond has more air travel points than Ethan Hunt—doublespeak and double crosses but the narrative doesn’t matter that much, it’s all in service of the Bunyanesque action.

Choreographed to an inch of Hunts life—Cruise really puts himself out there for this one—the realism of the stunts gives the movie a sense of danger and the Green Screen Department the day off. Monumental, vertigo inducing single sequences take place on land, wheels, water and air. Only the screeching of tires score one eye-peeling chase scene between a motorcycle and a car. Visually it is so visceral director Christopher McQuarrie wisely avoided cluttering the scene with frenetic music. It doesn’t need it.

Of course those looking for a finely crafted John le Carré style story of espionage in “Mission Impossible – Fallout” will be bitterly disappointed. While it does contain huggerymuggery it frequently falls just this side of making sense. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.

Even when Hunt isn’t in action the movie is in perpetual motion, but Frederick Forsyth this ain’t. Instead it is an elephantine (although no actual elephants appear) action epic that breaks the blockbuster norm of cutting away to an action sequence every ten minutes or so. It’s made up of three Brobdingnagian set pieces stitched together by words that mostly make sense.

BLINDSPOTTING: 4 STARS

“Blindspotting,” the debut film from director Carlos Lopez Estrada, filters an essay on privilege, gentrification and violence through the lens of one relationship. Colin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) have been friends since childhood but still have much to learn from one another.

Set in Oakland, California the bulk of the action takes place over the course of Colin’s last three days of probation on an assault and battery charge. Living in a halfway house, Colin works as a mover, with best friend Miles, for his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar) and has a strict curfew of 11 pm. He’s trying desperately to stay out of trouble but Miles, a loudmouth who carries a gun, is a loose cannon, always on the edge of blowing up the situation.

When Colin witnesses a cop shoot an unarmed African-American man in the back he’s plagued by nightmares and an increasing sense of trauma and dread. A situation at a party that escalates out of control forces Colin to assess his place in the world, or at least, his place in a rapidly gentrifying Oakland.

“Blindspotting” is a happily undisciplined a movie. Raw and brimming with ideas, it’s an exciting look at contemporary life that kicks preconceive notions of storytelling to the curb. Co-writers and co-stars Diggs and Casal weave a story that bristles with provactive ideas. Funny one moment, tragic the next, it confronts the viewers ideas not only on the narrative form of the storytelling but the stereotypes so often used to portray people of colour in movies.

Director Estrada builds tension all the way through leading up to a surreal showdown that brings the story into sharp focus.

Despite many stylish flourishes “Blindspotting” feels authentic. Perhaps it’s because of the warm camaraderie between Diggs and Casal or perhaps it’s because of the sense of nuance given to large scale issues of race, loyalty and class.

SHOCK AND AWE: 2 STARS

With news organizations under fire from all sides these days along comes a movie about journalists who spoke truth to power. “Shock and Awe,” the new film from director Rob Reiner, details the efforts of the Knight Ridder journalists who questioned the reasoning behind the 2003 Iraq War.

The main thrust of the narrative begins on September 11, 2001. As the press struggle to find the real story behind the terrorist attack, George W. Bush’s White House begins a campaign of misinformation, shifting the blame from Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden to secular leader Saddam Hussein. Knight Ridder reporters Warren Strobel (James Marsden) and Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) sense something is not quite right with the story, even though many of their colleagues eat up the Bush administration story of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Their insiders suggest the White House is deliberately trying to start a war with Iraq, forging a connection between Hussein and Al-Qaeda.

When Knight Ridder papers like The Philadelphia Inquirer decline to publish their reporting editor John Walcott (Reiner) reaches out to a big gun, Bronze Star-winning war correspondent Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), for help. “We don’t write for people who send other people’s kids off to war,” says Walcott. “We write for people whose kids get sent to war. You only have one thing to ask: Is it true?” With Galloway’s support Landay and Strobel burn shoe leather to support their “Donald Rumsfeld is lying” angle.

There is not much either shocking or awesome in “Shock and Awe.” The story should be edge of your seat stuff but feels muted. Part of the trouble is the amount of exposition particularly a speech from Strobel’s love interest Lisa (Jessica Biel) that sums up 4000 years of Iraq history in just under two minutes. It doesn’t make for good drama, despite the explosive nature of the true events.

Perhaps the movie’s indignation about politicians and media not valuing the truth feels blunted in this time of Fake News. Or perhaps it is lost in the film’s breezy nature. Either way, the result is a movie that has its heart in the right place but isn’t angry or intrepid enough.

GENERATION WEALTH: 3 ½ STARS

Lauren Greenfield has made a career doing in depth films about superficial people. Movies like “kids + money” and “The Queen of Versailles” examine the relationship between wealth, excess and humanity. Her latest, “Generation Wealth,” begins as a look at the lifestyles of the rich and (not so) famous in Los Angeles but blossoms outward to become an international study of the price of greed.

The documentary almost plays like a career retrospective, blending her own experiences as an artist covering the American Dream with the price she has paid as a parent. “I am in constant motion and I live with the consequences,” she says, “but it’s also one of the things I love. It gives my life meaning.”

Interspersed with her personal story is a blend of archival material form her earlier films and follow-up interviews with her subjects. We meet the son of a rock star whose outlook on life was shaped by the idea he’d never be as successful as his dad. There’s Florian Homm, a former hedge funder, now on the run from the FBI, who describes his former existence as “a hamster in a diamond studded gold wheel,” while sucking on a fat cigar. Notorious Charlie Sheen playmate and porn star Kacey Jordan is a poignant reminder of the downside of a life spent becoming a human commodity.

Early on interesting points are poised as to how and why we’ve become so greedy. One commenter suggests that mass media and TV are a form of violence. “Twenty four hours a day,” he says, “this fictitious lifestyle, which we’re all told we can have, fuels a sense of inadequacy.” People used to aspire to be like their neighbours and wanted just a bit more than they had. Now they want more than the Kardashians. When they can’t live up to that ideal, he continues, “the only social mobility you have is fictitious. The presentation that you give to the rest of the world denies your own reality.”

Plastic surgery, status and social mobility are essayed in an increasingly scattershot way. It’s a sprawling work, occasionally too sprawling. Greenfield aims to contextualize the effects of unbridled greed in the world but rarely effectively gets deep into the macro.

The movie works best when the stories she tells are smaller, more personal. Jordan’s life, for example, is a cautionary tale that effectively puts a human face on the very points about materialism and hubris that Greenfield wants to shine a spotlight on.

“Generation Wealth” has much to say but, by the time the credits roll, can be summed up with a quote from Homm. “If you think money will buy you anything or everything, you’ve never ever had money. You can’t buy the smile on your child’s face.” Greenfield wants us to know that greed, despite what Gordon Gekko so famously said, is not good.

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