Tag Archives: secret agent

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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