by Niko Lee
Since 1996 Tom Cruise has been pumping out Mission: Impossible movies of varying quality, but unlike many franchises, this one didn’t really start picking up steam until it’s latter entries. Throughout the many entries in this franchise Cruise decided that for each one he wanted a different director so that each movie would stylistically be different from the last, and while this proved to be a very interesting exercise to watch play out, it made the overarching story of the franchise far weaker. Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt ranged from a James Bond type womanizer, to the everyman hero comparable to the likes of John McClane in Die Hard. However, this all changed when Cruise brought on writer/director Christopher McQuarrie.
McQuarrie entered the franchise during the 4th entry in the series, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, doing rewrites, as more often than not these movies entered production with outlines for setpieces rather than a finished script. Cruise being impressed by the work McQuarrie had done with Ghost Protocol, decided that the next installment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, would be directed by McQuarrie. Prior to Rogue Nation there weren’t too many throughlines in terms of narrative from movie to movie, but with McQuarrie in the director’s chair, that all changed.
McQuarrie came on and for the first time in the franchise, established narrative throughlines, and clear characterization for the ensemble that would stay mostly the same in his entries. The biggest task that faced McQuarrie was that they still were going into production without a finished script, so iterations of where the story would go came to him while continuing to write during production, on-set, and most importantly in the editing process. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, went on to receive a good deal of critical claim while also being hailed as a clear direction for the franchise storywise. This led to McQuarrie making history in the franchise and helming a second film. The next film he made was, Mission: Impossible - Fallout.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout’s editing is an absolute sight to behold. This film moves at a pace that never lags, with a constant urgency only stopping when it is absolutely necessary. The action is insane, but never at one point loses clarity. McQuarrie opts for a very classical style with blends of the best of contemporary filmmaking here and it absolutely works to this movie’s favor. In the action scenes clarity is never sacrified for the sensation of action. McQuarrie edits and shoots to truly capture the insane stunts with clarity, and letting the absolute insanity of what’s going on to create energy. It’s frenetic, but never confusing to watch.
As I mentioned before, McQuarrie cares about story as much as he cares about the technical proficiency of his films, and that can bee seen in how patient the editing can be. McQuarrie isn’t afraid to hold on moments that need the weight that they deserve. A big part of this movie is Cruise’s character grappling with the morality of what he is doing. Much of this manifests in dream sequences, that take their time. Shot length during action while longer than most action movies, is still pretty short (aside from the skydiving setpiece that is an unbroken take of action), but during moments of drama McQuarrie is not afraid to let a shot linger. The opening scene is beautifully haunting for this very reason. We see Ethan in a dream where he decides to lead a domestic life, that leads to global catastrophe. The camera floats in on a steadicam, establishing a sense of surrealism and making this moment offput you in the same way that it does to our protagonist.
The editing always prioritizes story and character. Even in the action sequences, shots are composed and edited to keep the focus on characters and the obstacles they’re overcoming. Pure spectacle is never prioritized. During the film’s car chase, motorcycle chase, and helicopter chase we are always cutting back to the cockpit, to show reactions from our protagonist Ethan Hunt. We’re shown these small character moments to flesh out who they are, and see how they are dealing with the task at hand.
I could talk about almost every single scene in this movie on this level. It’s an absolute marvel to watch play out and shows an incredible maturity from Christopher McQuarrie in the director’s chair. Almost every choice is there to serve what is most important to him, the story. He cuts his movie with editor Eddie Hamiltion with a precision not often scene in blockbuster action today. When listening to McQuarrie and Hamilton talk about the process of editing in their individual commentaries for the film, they echo a sentiment that clearly defines why these movies are able to work even with their style of production. No shot or sequence is sacred, if it doesn’t serve the story being told, it can be cut from the edit. Story is king always, and this movie’s editing shows that in spades.