Abrams, Hoffman save "Mission: Impossible III" from self-destructing

by Eric Melin on May 4, 2006

in Print Reviews

There are many ways for the modern movie villain to be menacing. The 80s featured juiced-up bad guys with maniacal stares (like Gary Busey in “Lethal Weapon”), and suave foreign operators named Hans (Alan Rickman in “Die Hard”). The 90s brought us steely-eyed serial killers like John Doe from “Seven” and the now-iconic Hannibal Lecter, who toy with their victims’ psyche before doing unspeakably graphic things to them. Through all this, however, one constant has remained for any villain worth his weight in salt– the catch phrase (see also: witty comeback, punny one-liner, etc.)

“You talkin’ to me?”

But don’t tell Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The newly crowned Best Actor does away with all of that nonsense in “Mission: Impossible III.” As international arms dealer Owen Davian, Hoffman oozes menace and sleaze with one uncharacteristically evil trait–undertstated sincerity. When he tells superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) that he will kill his wife, he doesn’t need any pregnant pauses or zooming close-ups for extra effect. He just looks Hunt in the eyes, and delivers the threat as if it were fact, as inevitable as the sky turning black every night.

Hoffman is just one of many subtle additions to the newest in the “Mission: Impossible” series that help make it the most enjoyable one so far. With a refreshing sense of humor and some dizzying action scenes, director J.J. Abrams, the man behind TV’s “Alias” and “Lost,” nimbly navigates the treacherous waters surrounding Cruise’s troubled franchise. Let’s face it, the common elements from the first two movies (impossibly convulted plots, wacky gadgets and stunts, latex masks that duplicate peoples’ faces) don’t exactly ensure that a new installment will soar.

But soar “M:i III” does, with a number of expertly designed action sequences, like the one that has two speeding helicopters precariously racing around a huge field of rotating windmills. Often I stress that there are movies that need to be experienced in the theaters, and this is one of them. Abrams keeps the CGI effects to a minimum (except for one unfortunate plane sequence) and piles on the superhuman stunts.

The cinematography is chock full of vivid colors and, as usual, exotic locations. Hunt traipses around the globe from to Vatican City to Shanghai at a moment’s notice, but this time it’s not just because he’s just following orders. At the IMF, he is employed in a training-only mode now, and accepts the movie’s first mission only because the first agent that he himself recommended has been kidnapped. In other words—and please pardon the catch phrase– this time it’s personal.

As KG once said-”I love her, dude.”

As cheesy as it sounds, this is an essential ingredient. The plot, though again “impossible” to swallow without a huge suspension of disbelief, invests the audience in Hunt’s plight from the outset. Not unlike a superhero, he must keep his identity a secret to those closest to him. So it’s natural that, like the most recent rash of successful superhero movies, Abrams and his co-writers would keep the drama close to the main character’s heart. It plays to Hunt’s responsibility as an agent and a husband. Plus, these days it’s a little more believable for audiences to accept that Cruise would be that much in love with a woman that he would do some crazy things for her.

Throughout the movie, Hoffman lurks in the background. Underused as far as screen time goes, he remains a mysterious figure. His very non-presence makes it seem like he is capable of some crazy evil shit. In order for the audience to get wrapped up in anything that happens in “M:i III,” we need to know that’s possible. And it is–all without even a catch phrase.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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