Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), the fifth film in the big-screen franchise based on the sixties Cold War spy TV series, continues to spin its alternative to the James Bond brand of espionage thriller. Like the 007 films, they are globe-hopping spectacles with spectacular set-pieces and stunts. But while each film is tethered on Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, super-agent and loyal soldier in a spy war rife with traitors, the impossible missions are team events and Cruise surrounds himself with great teammates: Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg all return. There’s a kind of soldierly camaraderie among the agents, who constantly find themselves betrayed by politicians, military officers, and even their own commanders, and they band together to save the each other along with saving the world as we know it.
Cruise both produces each film with a hands-on approach and gives his filmmakers free reign to mix up the style from film to film. For the fifth film in almost 20 years, Cruise hands the reigns over to Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the screenplays to Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow and directed Cruise in Jack Reacher. While that film failed to launch another planned franchise, it was a sturdy piece of work and McQuarrie does even better here tackling spy fantasy. This is a world where technology is all powerful except when it isn’t (forcing Ethan to hang on to a jet plane as it takes off or dive into a cooling tank to punch in a key code and open some security system) and plot twists send our heroes to the most photogenic landmarks the filmmakers can dream up.
So this impossible Mission features another super-secret criminal organization pulling the strings in governments around the world, another plot to discredit Hunt and his team, and another series of elaborate infiltrations to get secret plans or incriminating evidence or… does it really matter? It’s just an excuse for creatively kinetic action, but McQuarrie goes one better here with an assassination plot in an opera house that adds crack-timing choreography and cross-cutting and uses the very aria of the opera on stage as accompaniment to the intrigue in the wings and catwalks. It’s a beautiful example of purely visceral suspense, tension, and release and frankly the film never quite equals that magnificent audition piece for the spy movie hall of fame. But it comes close while adding a snappy camaraderie and sense of fellowship to the whole enterprise.
And then there’s Rebecca Ferguson, a practically unknown Swedish actress (she starred in the British mini-series The White Queen) cast as British double agent Ilsa Faust, Ethan’s opposite, his equal, and possibly his enemy. She’s leggy and athletic and beautiful, and she does her work with a poker face that makes her even more intriguing. It’s hard to tell if that look of astonished respect belongs to the character or to Cruise himself, but either way it’s authentic and earned as they court by way of hand-to-hand combat, racing motorcycles through treacherous mountain roads, and double-teaming on death-defying stunts. You have to wonder: is this better than sex for these two? Or just a substitute among agents at this level of total commitment?
On Blu-ray and DVD, with the goodies saved for the two-disc Blu-ray. That includes commentary by filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie and producer / star Tom Cruise and seven featurettes that run between five and ten minutes apiece. “Lighting the Fuse” and “Cruise Control” profile McQuarrie and Cruise, respectively, “Heroes…” explores the supporting characters and actors, the production featurettes “Cruising Altitude,” “Mission: Immersible,” and “Sand Theft Auto” each take on a various stunts, and “The Missions Continue” looks at the franchise as a whole. It also includes a bonus DVD and an Ultraviolet HD copy of the film.
Richard Gere produces as well as stars in Time Out of Mind (MPI/IFC, Blu-ray, DVD) as George, a homeless and quite possibly mentally ill man in Manhattan getting lost in the bureaucratic maze of social services while bouncing from shelter to shelter in an effort to find some stability. Clearly the subject matter compels him—Gere’s activism is well known—but this isn’t your usual social drama of our culture’s down and out. There are no speeches or tirades, no indictment of the system, no villains or heroes. It’s just people getting along. Or not. The stakes are simple and basic, yet George’s world hangs in the balance over them. He needs a social security card to get basic social services, but he has no identification. He says his wallet was stolen, which may be true. It also may have happened years ago.
Oren Moverman, who scripts and directs the film, shoots on the streets, in the crowded shelters, and in the impersonal waiting rooms and offices of overwhelmed yet supportive social workers trying to guide him through the system (to Moverman’s credit no one is demonized; the failure is the system, not the working class folks who work in social services). It puts his ordeal in the real world, neither a brutal slum nor a city of affluence and arrogance, and Gere inhabits the frame as if squatting in someone else’s world, lost in the crowds and conversations that fill the scenes. He’s rarely alone but he’s always outside of things, ducking attention unless he needs something, silently listening to the meandering, colorful monologues of fellow shelter tenant Dixon (Ben Vereen), who says he was once a professional jazz musician and may well have been. His patter feels like a jazz solo. And George has a daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), who gets by tending bar and wants nothing to do with him. His interest in her clearly is more than money. His expression becomes haunted when he first sees her on the street and follows her from a distance. There’s a need to connect in his actions, and a fear of it as well.
Moverman and Gere create an atmosphere unlike any other film I’ve seen in recent memory. It puts us in middle of things yet outside of it all at once, a state of mind and a feeling of disenfranchisement as much as a physical world. And Gere gives the performance of his career—and one of the most nuanced performances of the year—as George, who is constantly reluctant to announce his presence in any situation, as if he’s afraid he’s no longer welcome. He certainly doesn’t believe he’s welcome, and that’s the saddest thing about Time Out of Mind. All he wants is a meal, a bed, a place to get warm in the chill of New York’s winter, and he’s afraid that he doesn’t deserve it. Gere makes you feel that utter lack of self-esteem, and it’s devastating.
Features commentary by filmmaker Oren Moverman and producer / star Richard Gere, a PSA about homelessness featuring Gere, and a featurette.
Also now available on Netflix.