Mission Impossible: Fallout 2018 *****

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The Mission Impossible formula has improved with each film, to the point where Rogue Nation was a franchise high. About the only problem with Fallout is that it replicates the elements of the previous film so specifically, but that’s hardly a problem when a perfect summer blockbuster is the result. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is once again thrown into the action against Solomon Lane (Sean Ellis, last seen being dropped into a glass cube in the previous film). For reasons that are deliberately confusing to explain, Hunt inveigles his way into a terrorist organisation and win the contract to burst his nemesis out of jail. The heist scene, set in Paris, is brilliantly foreshadowed by a scene in which Hunt imagines the consequences of failure; unlike most blockbusters, Fallout sets the stakes, personal and political, at a high level, and all the action, including grandstanding foot, motorbike and helicopter chases, is more intense as a result. The spy-games keep you guessing until a lavish denouement set in the mountains, with rapid toggling between ratios reflecting the influence of Chris Nolan. Chris McQuarrie does a great job here, mixing intrigue, suspense and humour with the deftness of a classic Hollywood film.

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American Made 2017 ****

Is Tom Cruise still considered bankable in 2019 outside the Mission Impossible films? The relative box office failure of The Mummy and American Made in 2017 made it seem like Cruise had lost his touch, but while the Monsterverse entry was clearly a misfire, American Made sees the star at his best. Capably directed by Doug Liman, American Made casts Cruise as Barry Seal, an airline pilot who gets involved with drug smuggling. Liman’s film is in the vein of Goodfellas or Ted Demme’s Blow, a cautionary tale that’s brimming with enthusiasm for the details, true or false. Sequences such as Seal trying to navigate a too-short runway in a too heavy plane or a stomach-churning crash landing over a residential area are dynamically brought to life, and Cruise absolutely nails it as a cocky showman who realises he’s well out of his depth. American Made is a terrific film about crime and punishment, and never stops entertaining even as Seale’s life spirals out of control. And the politics, implicating several big names, are more direct than might be expected.

Edge of Tomorrow 2014 ***

edgeAlso known by its tagline (Live, Die, Repeat), Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow considerably transcends the reductive formula of Groundhog Day with Aliens to provide a mind-bending proposition for most of its running time. Tom Cruise flexes his muscles as Major William Cage, a PR man who finds himself sent to the front line in a battle against aliens raging across Europe. Killed in action, Cage awakens to fin himself playing through the day over and over again, making tiny changes each time that further his adventure. Cage teams up with Rita (Emily Blunt) to discover what his gift is and how it can be used against the invasion force. The writers seem unable to resolve an amazing idea in a satisfactory way, and the conventional ending doesn’t make much sense, but the brisk opportunities offered by a complex plotline provide plenty of entertainment, with Cruise and Blunt squaring up nicely as increasingly battle-weary veterans.

Eyes Wide Shut 1999 *****

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After a year-long production that tied up two of the world’s highest paid actors (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), Stanley Kubrick’s final film was greeted with confusion when it arrived in 1999. Expectations of a psycho-analytical thriller were confounded by the gothic majesty of Eyes Wide Shut, adapted by Frederic Raphael from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle. Cruise plays affluent NYC doctor William Hartford, whose suspicions about his wife’s past lead him to take a walk on the wild side of life. A chance encounter with pianist Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) leads Hardford to a country-house orgy hosted by a mysterious consortium; could Victor Zeigler (Sydney Pollack) hold the answers? Cruise gives a stunningly-wrought performance as a respectable man coming to the end of his tether, and there’s stand-out support from Alan Cumming and Leelee Sobieski. Eyes Wide Shut’s 159 minute running time feels like an expanded director’s cut, but the puzzles and symbolism of Kubrick’s final vision dig deeply into the psyche of the repressed modern man.

Narc 2003 ***

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Tom Cruise was the unlikely champion of writer/director Joe Carnahan’s tough thriller, which established him as a Hollywood player and led to Smokin’ Aces, The Grey and The A Team. Jason Patric plays undercover cop Nick Tellis who teams up with Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) to investigate, and the trail leads to a nasty-looking chop-shop which typifies Narc’s scuzzy approach. Carnahan best work has a Don Siegel feel, and Marc benefits from unconventional performances from Patric and Liotta, and an eye of the unpleasant details of an internal affairs investigation. An adult, no-holds-barred thriller, Narc holds the attention from its sizzling opening sequence onwards.