Tag Archives: munich

Review – Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

The accomplishments of Ethan Hunt, America’s most implausible secret agent, throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise, have been nothing short of incredible (in the true sense of the word). Whether it is dodging bullets and explosions; going down elevator shafts; removing countless different face-masks; procuring files from encrypted computer systems; or tracking down his enemies across the world and killing them, Ethan has never let his country down. In entertaining fashion, Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol is more of the same, just with the latest technological gadgets.

The villian, ‘Cobalt’ (Michael Nyqvist), talking on the phone to execute his orders to launch a missile.

After a failed mission in Budapest to get hold of Russian nuclear missile codes, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) Secretary (Tom Wilkinson – Shakespeare In Love, The Debt, Denial) launches the mission ‘Ghost Protocol’ and sends Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible I-III, Valkyrie, One Shot) into the field with a team, consisting of Benji (Simon Pegg – Mission Impossible III, Paul, Star Trek I & II), Jane (Paula Patton – Déjà Vu, Precious, Disconnect) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner – S.W.A.T., The Hurt Locker, The Avengers Assemble). The IMF needs to find an agent known by the codename ‘Cobalt’ (Michael Nyqvist – Arn: The Knight Templar, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Disconnect), who has apparently got access to the codes, and stop him from launching nuclear war.

In the meantime, the Kremlin is threatened by a bomb attack and believes that the Americans are behind it. Thus, Ethan and his team, in a mission that will take them to many countries, must go rogue if they are to succeed.

The storyline for Ghost Protocol is quite simple at its core. It undoubtedly lacks the realism of Munich and The Debt (and even makes James Bond films appear plausible). Nevertheless, director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, 1906) gives one what he/she would want to see in a film like Ghost Protocol, such as plenty of explosions (although nowhere near as many as in the colossal Transformers III), and stunts that are so ludicrous one needs a sack of salt to believe what he/she is watching (for a pinch of the stuff would not be enough).

If he’s not jumping down an a shoot, Ethan (Tom Cruise) is climbing the tallest skyscraper in Dubai.

Yet, as has been typical with the Mission: Impossible series, Ghost Protocol’s plot has a convoluted nature that differentiates this franchise from the Bond films and the Bourne series. Consequently, Ghost Protocol may not be so easy to follow. Whilst audiences are likely to realise that Ethan and his team are hunting ‘Cobalt’, the various other characters that flow in and out of the movie, as well as the subplots, complicate the storyline unnecessarily.

Moreover, the film’s plot is not aided by the dialogue. Viewers with a brain would be advised not to scrutinise the conversations held by the characters. Rarely do the discussions make sense to the extent that it’s remarkable that the protagonists can even contribute to their conversations. (That they understand their instructions is nothing short of miraculous!)

At least none of the actors take their roles overly seriously; if they had done, their performances would have been as pitiful as those in Fantastic Four I & II and in Captain America. However, since there is little pretence on behalf of the protagonists of the ludicrous nature of the film, all of the actors give decent and humorous, if unmemorable, displays: Tom Cruise plays (probably himself) with the same arrogance and ingenuity that he is so accustomed to playing; Simon Pegg makes his usual goofy jokes, and is the same IT-wizard of Mission: Impossible III; Jeremy Renner reprises the skills he learned in S.W.A.T., without adding much more to the movie; and Paula Patton looks good and has a surprisingly large role (especially considering that the Mission: Impossible franchise has been dominated by Cruise showing the world that he is the latest version of Action Man).

The only one who loses out is the villain played by Michael Nyqvist, since he appears so little on screen. As a corollary, Nyqvist does not get the opportunity to show audiences of his capabilities as an actor, which he illustrated so well in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.

Ethan and Jane (Paula Patton) dressed very nicely for a lavish party. Jane is hoping to catch someone’s eye.

Lastly, the special effects and the technical gadgets used throughout Ghost Protocol are outstanding. The effects may not look as spectacular as in Harry Potter VII: Part II, but they are certainly convincing. Similarly, the gadgets are fully up-to-date and employed as impressively as when Ethan used the then-new tool, called the internet, in Mission: Impossible I. (Oh how far we have advanced!)

Over-all, Ghost Protocol gives (Tom Cruise as) Ethan Hunt another chance to achieve the unachievable and save America (and the world) from catastrophe. The film throws in more explosions, impractical objectives and improbable scenarios, as well as the latest technology, to a franchise that has always made for senseless and outrageously far-fetched, but enjoyable viewing.

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Review – The Debt (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

When it comes to films about Mossad operations, such as Munich or Raid On Entebbi, they have a unique appeal that the average spy/secret agent movie doesn’t have. Undoubtedly, this is due to Mossad’s exceptional stealth and ruthlessness to find and deal with Israel’s most dangerous enemies. The highly enjoyable The Debt, once again, gives credence to the capabilities of the Israeli secret services.

Young Rachel, Stefan and David in their leaky apartment in East Berlin. Their expressions indicate that the pressure might be getting to them.

The Debt is not a true story and is a remake of the 2007 Israeli film with the same title. The movie is based in mid-1960s East Berlin, and the latter 1990s in Israel. The plot is about three Israeli secret agents, David (when young, played by Sam Worthington – Avatar IIII, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans; when old, played by Ciarán Hinds – The Rite, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Woman In Black), Rachel (when young, played by Jessica Chastain – Jolene, The Tree of Life, The Help; when old, played by Helen Mirren – The Queen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Eye In The Sky)  and Stefan (when young, played by Marton Csokas – The Bourne Supremacy, Kingdom of Heaven, Dream House; when old, played by Tom Wilkinson – Batman Begins, Michael Clayton, Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol), who are sent to Soviet-controlled Berlin to find Dr. Berhhadt/Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace, Spectre). Vogel was a Nazi doctor at the concentration camp, Birkanau, who experimented on Jews, deliberately deforming them in the name of ‘science’ and ‘medicine.’

David, Rachel and Stefan draw up a clever plan to capture Vogel, get him out of East Berlin, and onto a plane to Israel, so he can face justice. But the plan goes awry, leaving the three Mossad agents to decide how best to deal with the potential consequences.

The Debt’s storyline is realistic and adopts a non-linear timeframe, in a similar vein to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Skin I Live In, since it ventures back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s. But in contrast to the other two films, viewers are unlikely to find The Debt difficult to follow or overly confusing. This is because the movie has an absorbing plot, filled with suspense. With the music (although nothing noteworthy) pumping the adrenaline, it is doubtful that one will become bored throughout the 113 minutes of the film. In some ways though, The Debt should not have been so long because the last twenty to thirty minutes goes off on a tangent. This is highly injurious to the movie, as it takes away some of its realism.

Vogel (Jesper Christensen) toying with David’s mind, whilst being bounded to a pole in captivity.

The Debt may not be factual; nevertheless, it has many truthful and realistic elements. The film has echoes of the successful Mossad operation to capture Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking Nazi who was involved in the planning of the Final Solution of the Jews, and the failed one to find the infamous Nazi doctor of Auschwitz, Joseph Mengele. Furthermore, the movie subtly hints at the police-state that was East Germany. Yet, there is no mention of the Stasi, the East German secret police, or the nature of Communist rule in post-1945 Eastern Europe. If one has no knowledge of the era, one will come out of the movie no more informed, which is again to the film’s detriment.

Whether one becomes more knowledgeable about Soviet-ruled Europe is dubious, but from The Debt viewers can appreciate some very real moral and ethical conundrums. The issue of when justice must trump truth, and vice versa, is a messy and complex one. The film illustrates this in a mature way. The same can be said for the problems and stresses that the three secret agents endure, and how they handle it (which they do differently to the agents in Munich); and for the psychological warfare that Vogel plays on young Rachel, Stefan and David. The way Vogel plays on their minds is done brilliantly. Yet, at the same time, it is sickeningly realistic because he always twists facts to ensure that there are elements of truth to his arguments.

David and Rachel, thirty years later, discussing the past with pride and shame.

Indeed, the actor playing Vogel, Jesper Christensen, is the star of the film, even if his role is relatively small. That he makes Vogel sound plausible and, perhaps, not even the villain adds credence to this. (And considering that Vogel conducted unspeakable experiments on humans, that is no small feat.) Unlike Christensen’s performance, those of the rest of the cast may not stand out, but no-one plays badly. Their characters may not all be explained well, but they all have some depth, which is revealed at various times during the film (although, all of the agents are too young for their supposed ages). With the exception of Sam Worthington (who sounds remarkably Australian for a German-born Israeli), their Israeli accents are believable. Ciarán Hinds, in particular, also looks very Israeli, as do his mannerisms.

Over-all, The Debt is another worthwhile Mossad movie that is gripping and tense, despite not being true. It may not increase viewers’ knowledge of 1960s East Berlin or the Cold War, but one is likely to leave the cinema with a greater understanding for some profound dilemmas that heads of state and secret service agencies, including Mossad, have to deal with. (Now we look forward to the film about the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, the Hamas military operative, who was killed in Dubai, allegedly by Mossad, in January 2010).

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Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

The Bourne series, 24 and Munich, in their different ways, show audiences that the world of the secret services is a murky one, where mistrust and paranoia are rife. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) may not be a standard catch-and-shoot the bad guy thriller. Nevertheless, with a star-studded cast, TTSS is an excellent, if puzzling, portrayal of the nature of the top echelons of the secret services.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman), adopting his standard pose, explains a few things to his assistant, Peter Guillam, in one of the secret places where they do their work.

TTSS is based on the novel by John Le Carré, who worked for the best part of 20 years in MI5 and MI6; the movie is also a shortened remake of the 1979 TV series. TTSS is set in early-1970s Britain, during the Cold War. There is a mole in the ‘Circus’, the MI6 internal nickname for the highest levels of the British intelligence services. Someone is giving classified information to a Soviet agent called Polyakov (Konstantin Khabenskiy – Wanted). But who is it?

Control (John Hurt – V For Vendetta, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii), Immortals) brings back his former colleague, George Smiley (Gary Oldman – Air Force One, Harry Potter III-V & VII(ii), The Dark Knight Rises), from retirement in order to discover who is behind the leak. But Smiley and his personal assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch – Atonemment, Star Trek II, The Hobbit II), must do their work in secret. This is to make sure that the other members of the ‘Circus’ – Percy Alleline (Toby Jones – Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Snow White and the Huntsman), Bill Hayden (Colin Firth – The Importance of Being Earnest, The King’s Speech, Before I Go To Sleep), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds – Munich, Harry Potter VII(ii), The Debt) and Toby Esterhase (David Denick – War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – don’t find out what they’re up to. Any one of them could be the traitor.

The plot for TTSS may sound straight forward, but it is not. Rather, it is slow and very confusing. The movie is also hard to follow because it does not follow a linear timeframe. Viewers are rarely certain if they’re watching the past or the present. Moreover, the director, Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In), does not give the complete context of the story; for example, there is no hint of the five Cambridge pro-Soviet traitors that riddles the book.

Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) looking through files to find information on the mole.

This is not to say that Alfredson has made a bad film. On the contrary, the slowness of TTSS is, arguably, a reflection of the world of espionage, which Le Carré, who assisted in the movie’s production, understands so well. Seen in this light, even the many seemingly pointless short, silent scenes of Smiley going into a room or a house on his own have a purpose, since they give TTSS a greater feel for the workings of MI6.

In addition, the brilliant acting throughout the movie aids our understanding of the type of people that tend to be at the top echelons of the secret services. A lecturer of mine at university told me that Hilter’s military intelligence chief (and double-agent), Wilhelm Canaris, upheld a persona to make it seem to others that he was not on the ball. In a similar vein, all the men in the ‘Circus’ in TTSS have their manufactured character guises. No-one in the film has this more than Smiley. In the lead role, the ever-sound Gary Oldman plays Smiley exceptionally well. Whilst no James Bond, Oldman never loses his concentration as Smiley; he always remains head-down, calm and monotonous, yet perspicacious, even when there is emotion stirring within him. It is a shame for Oldman that many subtleties of Smiley’s character, from the book and the TV series, have been taken out by Alfredson.

All of the supporting cast suffer from the same problems. Everyone plays very well, but since the film is only 127 minutes (and may seem longer to those not enjoying it), there is not enough time for all of the nine main characters, including Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong – Kick-Ass, The Eagle, Zero Dark Thirty) and Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy – Layer Cake, Inception, Warrior), to have real depth. To the cast’s credit, none of them appear shallow on screen, and some of them are given the time to express themselves to a degree.

Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) as the active secret agent on the streets to help find people who may be connected to the mole.

The impressive acting is matched by the settings throughout TTSS. From the clothes; to the hairstyles; to the cars; to the fax machines (and lack of mobile phones); to the smoking, everything has the appearance of the late-1960s/early-1970s. Remarkably, nothing is out of place.

The music used throughout the film is, perhaps, the exception to this. While the music is not of its era, its strangeness, more often than not, enhances the confounding plot and the tension in some of the scenes.

TTSS is not a conventional spy/secret-agent thriller. The film moves at a measured pace and is very confusing to the extent that one may go home without having completely understood the movie. One may even need to be a fan of this niche genre to truly appreciate it. Yet, with fantastic acting – particularly from Gary Oldman – TTSS depicts its era and the underhandedness of the inner workings of the top levels of the secret services down to a tee.

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