YIN/YANG REVIEW: Mission: Impossible - Fallout / The Catcher was a Spy
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
By Derek May
YIN: Mission: Impossible - Fallout
First of all, I LOVE these movies. They sucked me in completely with the first way back in 1996, and I’ve enjoyed every entry since. In fact, I might even say I’ve enjoyed each entry better than the last, which for a franchise of 20+ years is one helluva feat! This year’s sixth entry, Fallout, culminates and concludes several ongoing storylines, and while getting some of the best reviews of the series, I personally found a crack or two in this ageless wonder.
Ghost Protocol helmer Christopher McQuarrie returns for a second go round, which seems a no-brainer considering how near-perfect that fifth installment turned out. This time however, he may have packed in just a wee bit too much. But let me be clear: I’m nitpicking to the extreme. It’s hard not to compare the film to the previous ones, but evaluating Fallout as much as possible on its own merits, there are a few quibbles to be found.
The movie starts off a bit slower than usual, setting a tepid pace until about the halfway point. From there, it picks up its full head of steam and charges toward the climax. But up til then, the audience is kept wondering just exactly what story we’re supposed to be following.
And there are a few to choose from.
Ethan Hunt and his regular cadre of IMF buddies (minus Jeremy Renner) are back, and of course are immediately put in a pickle. Their supposed failure opens the door for the CIA to insert their own man, Henry Cavill’s August Walker.
As one might expect, Hunt and Walker do not get along, For reasons I won’t spoil here, there’s a reason their chemistry feels a bit off, and the filmmakers tread the narrow line as to whether Walker is good or bad (which even Cavill admits is a bit of a moot point if you’ve seen the trailer). Their struggle to work together provides much of the conflict for the first half. Cavill, for his part, does an excellent job with the role, dancing that line well enough to where you’re legitimately second-guessing where he stands—at least for a while. And being the Man of Steel, he’s certainly got the physical chops for the role. But what impressed me most was his performance, which, having been buried under mediocre comic scripts and an awful CGI lip for far too long, feels refreshingly rejuvenated. It’s a nice reminder that Cavill is indeed a fine actor, and brings a weight to the role that challenges Hunt (and Cruise for that matter) in both mind and body. It’s also a refreshing turn to have an outsider call the IMF on some of their more ridiculous tropes, like the ever-ready flawless masks. It’s a nice way nod of self-awareness.
Beyond that, we also follow Ghost Protocol newcomer Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who once again returns as a bit of a conundrum. To McQuarrie’s credit, he found a clever way to return her to that friendly antagonist state from the last film while simultaneously staying true to those events and continually expanding her storyline. As such, her chemistry with Hunt works as exceedingly well as it did before, and like before we root for them as a couple oddly perfect for each other.
But wait a sec, isn’t Ethan married? Glad you asked, as the glimpses we’ve caught of Julia (Michelle Monaghan) over the past few films have kept that wound open for not just Ethan, but us as well. But one of Fallout’s biggest strengths is that it takes time to address and wrap up some of these lingering issues. There is a callback, whether large or small, to every single previous entry at some point in the film. And should this prove the final installment, they have managed to satisfyingly tie off those old lines, while still leaving the door wide open for the future. It’s about as happy an ending as these poor world-saving devils will ever get.
By this point most of the rest of the cast know their roles inside and out. Cruise is, well, Cruise. He’s a stalwart, and executes his role as both star and producer with equal vigor. It’s his shepherding more than anything else that has kept the franchise not only moving, but growing. Ving Rhames (the other perennial since the beginning) and Simon Pegg could easily butt heads vying for both comic relief and techno-babble exposition, but somehow they make it work as a duo, and neither ever feels redundant, even with Pegg picking up more of the screentime. Alec Baldwin returns as well and, like Ferguson, somehow manages to maintain both a camaraderie and a distance with the team, which makes their relationship just dubious enough to keep some of the twists realistic. Last of the Protocol veterans is villain Sean Harris, who manages to find a new angle on the character this time round, having been defeated, if not deadened, by Hunt previously, and bares no lack of grudge for the effort. Harris plays the character as slightly unhinged by his experience, and ready to take things to hauntingly dangerous heights. It’s a great way to continue the story while never feeling repetitive. Besides Cavill, the only other major new face is Angela Bassett as CIA director Sloane. And while she proves tough as nails, she also proves equally unappealing because of it, jumping between friend and foe with dizzying regularity. It’ll be interesting to see if she swings back around in a sequel.
No talk of a Mission: Impossible movie would be complete without burrowing into the action, and here Fallout falls right in line with its predecessors. The biggest and most thrilling is obviously the climactic helicopter chase, and if you’ve seen the behind the scenes videos you know that Cruise continues to do almost all of his own stunts, including in this case flying. The guy is nuts, and at least onscreen it’s a huge asset, even if he’s shattering his ankles jumping off buildings. It’s really what gives these films an edge in the digital age, and whether it’s racing through the streets or the skies, the fact that it’s Cruise doing it most of the time adds incalculable value to the series. If you need your Impossible stunt fix, Fallout certainly will deliver.
So ultimately, the film is a worthy entry to the series, and its positives far outshine its admittedly few negatives. It could have been paced a little better in the first half, the story could have been a little more streamlined, and now and again we seem to revisiting some old stunts and gags. But, on the other hand, Fallout actually acknowledges its derivativeness, and even makes it a vital part of its DNA. It feels like a conclusion to the previous five entries, and finishes off with the lovable, insane characters and stunts we’ve come to know and love. There’s no question I’ll be adding this to my bluray collection in the next few months, and if whether you’re a fan whose kept with it this far, or just interested in a good popcorn action flick, you certainly could do worse.
For my money, if this is the end, I’m plenty satisfied, and if not, they’ve left a touch of room to improve. Either outcome certainly doesn’t seem . . . come on, you know.
YANG: The Catcher was a Spy
Just when you think they’ve covered just about every conceivable angle and you’ve heard every possible story involving World War II, somehow there’s always another waiting in the wings. It’s even more of a surprise when the story turns out to be – mostly – true. In the case of The Catcher was a Spy, truth really is stranger than fiction, but does that make it as good?
The film was a limited released in theatres in the U.S., so if you haven’t heard of it, don’t fault yourself. But there’s little question you’ll be familiar with the all-star cast: Paul Rudd, Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Guy Pearce, Sienna Miller, Connie Nielsen, Mark Strong, Hiroyuki Sanada, the list goes on. . . . It’s really no surprise what might have attracted such a lineup; the story would be practically unbelievable if it wasn’t true.
The film reveals the enigmatic life of Moe Berg, an aging baseball player who happens to be a relative genius (speaking 7 languages, educated at Princeton, etc.). With the end of his career in sight, he seizes the opportunity to join the American intelligence service. Being relatively young and physically undervalued, he works his way onto a field mission of vital importance to the war: the investigation and potential assassination of Werner Heisenberg, the German’s atomic scientist.
That description alone is one helluva hook. But the film also explores Berg as a person, taking us through various facets of his life leading up to his mission. Unfortunately, director Ben Lewin doesn’t seem quite able to balance the two aspects.
We spend plenty of time on Berg, and yet we never fully get to know him. Rudd, being known almost exclusively for his comedic chops, is an unlikely choice for the role, yet ends up being practically perfect. He’s never plays it too light or too dark, though is able to nimbly dance between the shades. He delivers on Berg’s intelligence and, having gotten in shape as Ant-Man, is now able to believably pull off the physicality. There are some real dramatic depths explored here, not just in the dual aspect of ball-player and spy but also Berg’s hidden life as a homosexual in such stringently repressed times. Rudd plays through every portion with honesty and conviction, and does his best to exhibit a fully rounded character. But through no fault of his own, the cagey Berg remains something of a mystery.
As we follow Berg toward his climactic assignment, we really feel like we’re merely watching things happen to him as opposed to his taking more of an active initiative. The appeal of most noir spy movies is the mental chess match between the sides, and on that we’re left at a disadvantage. Berg is so smart, so confident, and so capable that there are few if any true obstacles in his path. Even his homosexuality, while addressed, doesn’t serve as a barrier. He mostly cruises through one event after another until near the third act, where the tension finally starts to build.
I don’t want to give away what is essentially the films only real conflict, except to say that there appears little justification for it, aside from the fact it comes far too late. The ending, therefore, feels somewhat anticlimactic, with Berg ultimately forced to make a choice between life and death, and once that choice is enigmatically made, we are denied seeing the repercussions of it. The film ends up feeling like a long road to nowhere, despite its fascinating premise and setup.
That’s both frustrating and disappointing given the diligent and amazing work of the cast and crew. It almost feels like a slight disservice to the story and the man. Not having read the book, I can’t say whether they the problem was slavish loyalty to the text or ill-advised liberties taken, but for whatever reason, the movie just never fires on all cylinders. In the end, the catcher may have been a spy, but it’s the audience that’s left out in the cold.