Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Mission:  Impossible – Ghost Protocol
 
IMF agent Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) mission, should he choose to accept it, is to retrieve stolen Russian nuclear missile launch codes and prevent them from falling into the hands of a terrorist code named Cobalt.  There are a few problems to overcome:  First, they don’t know who Cobalt is, so they must break into the secure vaults at the Kremlin to retrieve information that identifies him.  Second, while they are on that mission, a bomb destroys a large chunk of the Kremlin and it is made to appear the IMF agents were involved.  Third, the IMF is disbanded and Hunt and his team are now considered terrorists, wanted by every spy agency in the world.  With just a three member team consisting of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), newly promoted field agent and tech wizard Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and information analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and with limited resources, Hunt must travel the world, from Russia to Dubai to India, avoiding the dogged pursuit of Russian intelligence agent Anatoly Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov), to prevent a worldwide nuclear holocaust.
 
First, let me say I believe Tom Cruise is a tool.  While he has kept a relatively low profile since his Oprah couch jumping and Matt Lauer “glib” comment of several years ago, it remains he seems to live in a fantasy bubble of Scientology and wealth that no one can or should understand.  That said, “Mission:  Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is spectacular.  It brings back a level of sleekness and style that has been missing from many action films of the last several years.  It also returns to the gadget-heavy days of the “James Bond” series, circa Roger Moore; however, the gadgets play much more of an intricate role in the plot as opposed to being items that are showed off for the amazing tricks they can do.  Cruise, who performed his own stunts on the side of the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, may be the greatest gadget in the film.  
 
While always focused and intense, Cruise is able to turn on a dime and become warm, angry, mentoring or driven, depending on what the scene requires.  I realize that’s just acting, but Cruise is able to make those transitions so cleanly and smoothly, it isn’t showy or flashy acting.  It works because it seems natural.  Patton, Pegg and Renner are also terrific in their roles, each bringing their own natural gifts to their parts.  Patton is intense but damaged by the events in an earlier mission that leads directly to the events of the film.  Pegg provides most of the humor, nervously chatting as he and Cruise make their way in disguise through the Kremlin but showing his calm and professionalism when sat behind a laptop hacking his way into a computer system.  Renner’s Brandt has some past experience with Ethan Hunt that has scarred him and made him question his abilities as an agent.  All these strengths and weaknesses make these characters more than just super spies:  It makes them human.
 
The film’s action scenes are probably its greatest draw for audiences and none of them disappoint, while two of them do stretch credulity.  From one on one fist fights to car chases through sand storms, the action in the film is turned up to 11.  Fortunately, these sequences are not edited like many action scenes with numerous quick cuts that make following what happens nearly impossible.  The action flows fairly naturally and the audience is given the opportunity to actually see what is happening.  While one shootout is rendered impossible by an episode of “Mythbusters” and the age difference in one fight makes it seem unlikely it would go on for so long, the action in the film is more than just showing off for the stunt coordinators, it actually makes sense within the story.
 
“Mission:  Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence.  As mentioned above, there are numerous shootings, car chases and fistfights in the film but very little blood and no gore.  The “F-bomb” is dropped one time.  Otherwise, there are no language issues.
 
“Mission:  Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is exciting, stylish, sometimes improbable and always slick.  Perhaps it is too slick for its own good at times.  For a team of outlaw agents with limited resources, they always seem to have the money to travel the world and all the gadgets they need to get the job done.  I suppose it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to watch these spies slog along dealing with such mundane issues as how to afford a first class ticket to Dubai or a tuxedo to wear to a billionaires’ party.  How pedestrian.
 
“Mission:  Impossible – Ghost Protocol” gets five guitars.
 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
 
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is co-publisher and a journalist with the Swedish news magazine Millennium.  He’s just lost a libel lawsuit brought against him by a crooked businessman which will cost him most of his personal wealth.  Despite this, retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) wants Blomkvist to investigate the 40 year old disappearance and presumed murder of his niece Harriet.  Vanger will tell his extended and unseemly family that Blomkvist is writing his biography, but he will actually be seeing if one of them killed Harriet.  The Vanger family is filled with alcoholics and unrepentant Nazis; all of whom seem capable of murder.  With so much time elapsed since Harriet disappeared, Blomkvist feels the need for a researcher and is impressed with the work of the investigator who checked him out for Vanger.  Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a brilliant but troubled young woman.  Deemed mentally incompetent due to an incident in her past, Salander is a ward of the State despite her age of 23.  An expert computer hacker with a photographic memory, Salander is the perfect person to help Blomkvist track down Harriet’s possible killer who may be associated with a series of bizarre and ritualistic murders of women stretching back decades.
 
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is based on a novel of the same name by author Steig Larsson.  This is also a remake of a Swedish film from 2009.  While I haven’t seen the original film or read the book, I am aware both were considered very good.  This version of the story is also very good.  It is a dark, twisted tale of murder, greed, perversion, power and revenge.  As the tale unfolds, it’s actually two interwoven stories about Blomkvist and Salander and how their damaged lives combine to bring redemption to one and freedom to the other.  While that may sound like a traditional happy ending, it’s not.  The brilliance of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is its ability to show us the darkest, most depraved behavior of humanity without turning everyone into a monster, then pulling us back from the brink without ending the film with scenes of young lovers, slow motion running through a sunny field of spring flowers.  It simultaneously gives us hope and despair.
 
The film is also excellent at teasing us with the threat of impending doom without that doom ever arriving.  There are scenes set in an archive filled with old, yellowed newspaper clippings.  At times you are certain as Salander walks among the stacks she will be jumped by an unknown assailant hiding among the shelves.  It never happens probably because it doesn’t happen that way in the book but also because the filmmakers knew it would be expected.  There are other scenes where you are sure something bad is about to take place but it doesn’t.  There’s plenty of bad that happens throughout the two hours and 40 minutes but usually not where you expect it.  We also are kept guessing about the identity of the killer.  It doesn’t become obvious until he makes himself known late in the film.  Like most of the other threats in the movie, he’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.  It is a twisty thriller that assumes the audience is paying attention the entire time.  You’ll find it hard not to as the screen is filled with eccentric and fascinating characters.
 
Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist as part dedicated journalist and part self-pitying whiner.  The loss of the libel case and the effect it has on his adulterous relationship with his publishing partner Erika, played by Robin Wright, pulls Blomkvist in two directions:  He wants to clear his name but he doesn’t want to bring down the magazine with his presence.  She wants him to fight through the shame but he wants to run away and the Vanger offer gives him the chance.  It also focuses his mind on something other than his issues and that gives him a fresh perspective allowing him to focus on Harriet’s disappearance.  As he dives in, posting flow charts on his walls of how everyone is related to everyone one else, he can feel the old desire coming back to investigate a wrong that needs to be righted.  Rooney Mara has the daunting task of bringing a damaged character to life.  She does it brilliantly.  While I’m not a doctor, I’m diagnosing Lisbeth with a mild form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.  She’s an excellent investigator who lacks any kind of social graces.  She rarely looks people with whom she’s speaking in the eye and often says the most inappropriate things.  This lack of personal skills makes Lisbeth the target of an unscrupulous state worker who oversees her finances.  It is a mistake he will never be allowed to forget and it marks a turn in her character that makes you both fear and respect her.  This is the kind of performance that could get recognized at Oscar time.  If I had a vote, Rooney Mara would get mine.
 
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.  There are two scenes of rape.  One is disgusting and the other is violent and difficult to watch.  There are also two or three consensual sex scenes that are fairly graphic.  Violence is infrequent but very intense with some gore including a murdered cat that’s body is mutilated into the shape of a swastika and the aftermath of a person’s face being hit with a golf club.  Foul language is scattered but intense at times.
 
Author Stieg Larsson died in 2004 before the book series became a worldwide phenomenon and a Swedish film trilogy.  Given the quality of the first American version of his work, I believe it is likely the other two books will also be given the big screen treatment.  If “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is any indication of what’s to come, I personally can’t wait.
 
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” gets five guitars.
 
There’s only one new film this week, so I’m giving you some art house options as well.  Vote for the movie you’d like me to review next.
 
The Devil Inside—With the help of exorcists, a woman sets out to determine whether her murderous mother is mentally ill or demonically possessed.
 
The Artist—A silent movie superstar faces the advent of the talkies and the end of his career while for a young extra the sky's the limit.
 
Like Crazy—When a British college student falls for her American classmate they embark on a passionate and life-changing journey only to be separated when she violates the terms of her visa.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choosing.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
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