Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

Anamorph (2007) a (mildly) belated review

One of the more fascinating things, after all this time writing this blog, is seeing what posts wind up being searched out by people and which aren’t.  Some post I was certain would get multiple views long after being posted…and didn’t.  Some I knew from the outset would be interesting for people for a limited time and were.  And some I wrote thinking they’d have a very short shelf life and was surprised to find they had staying power and people kept searching them out long after they were posted.

I’d like to think this happens because whatever I wrote was so fascinating, so blindingly unique, so intellectually challenging that of course people would come back to revel in my oh-so-brilliant analysis.

The cold hard reality, alas, is that I was simply very, very lucky stumbling onto a topic that people out there found interesting.  This then is one of those blogs that when I originally wrote it figured it would elicit some mild interest before fading away.  Today, nearly two years later, it still draws some interest.  From March of 2010, here’s my (mildly belated) review of a perplexing film called Anamorph.

So I’m feeling pretty damn sick over the weekend and, as the illness drains from my body and I’m feeling up for some light TV fare, I turn the television on and, on the IFC channel (or was it Sundance?!) a movie titled Anamorph begins.  Instantly I’m thrown…the title of this 2007 film sounds like it belongs to a kiddie TV show you’d find lodged between G. I. Joe and The Transformers on some lazy Saturday morning.  I watch on, realizing rather quickly that this movie is about as far from kiddie fare as you could imagine.

In fact, Anamorph turns out to be an ambitious, indeed overly ambitious film that can be accurately billed as something “inspired by” (or, if you’re less charitable ripping off) Se7en and Fight Club.  However, lest I sound too critical right off the bat, the movie does feature plenty of food for thought on its very own, even if the influences mentioned are there.

Anamorph features Willem Defoe as Stan Aubray, a NY detective who is at the start of the film presented as an introverted oddball.  He lectures at a school while (barely) still working at the Police Department.  Five years ago he was involved in the notorious “Uncle Eddie” serial killer case, and it now appears “Uncle Eddie” might be back.

But things aren’t always what they seem…

The short review:  The film is decent, well-acted, and keeps your interest through its run time.  However, there are so many elements to the story that ultimately are never appropriately resolved and, thus, confuse the viewer that I can’t unequivocably recommend it.  I suppose if what you’ve read so far has you intrigued, then give the film a whirl…just be prepared to not get tidy answers to all the questions posed.

Now, I’m going to get into the movie’s details, something I can’t do with giving a very clear…

SPOILER WARNING!!!

 

Still there?

Ok, here we go:  I enjoy almost every type and genre of film.  Science fiction, fantasy, suspense, thriller, horror, comedy, drama…you name it and there’s a good chance I can offer an example of a film in said genre I’ve enjoyed.  Often, films in the various genres that make me think, or rather those that don’t spell everything out, are particularly intriguing.  2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic example of just that. There is little dialogue and much is left for the viewers to figure out.  The same goes for Mulholland Dr., perhaps my favorite David Lynch film.  I was absolutely confused by what was going on until we arrived at the audition scene.  Suddenly, I understood what Mr. Lynch was doing, and the film became, at least to me, absolutely fascinating.

With Anamorph we start with what appears to be your typical serial killer movie scenario.  Like Se7en, the serial killer is as brilliant as he is disturbed.  Our serial killer poses his victim’s bodies in increasingly bizarre “scenes” that he creates.  By making these elaborate scenes with the often grotesquely butchered bodies, our killer appears to be “talking” to his pursuers, bringing them into his insane world.

As mentioned before, “Uncle Eddie” first showed himself five years before.  Through the course of the movie, we find that a group of cops, including Defoe’s Stan, investigated the case until they thought they knew who the killer was.  They broke into this man’s house to arrest him and one of the cops, thinking the suspected “Uncle Eddie” was holding a gun (he wasn’t) shot him dead.  Despite this, the police are convinced they had the right man.  As if to prove the fact, the “Uncle Eddie” crimes suddenly ceased.

But, five years later, new victims appear and things become very muddy.  In public and before the media, the police department is certain these new killings are the work of a “copycat”.  In private, they appear less sure…Was Stan, the lead investigator in the original case, wrong in fingering who “Uncle Eddie” was?  Did the five year old raid kill an innocent man?  And if so, were these new killings the work of “Uncle Eddie”?  But can we completely discount the possibility that we are dealing with a copycat?  As the film moves along, there appears yet another question:  What exactly happened to the last female victim of “Uncle Eddie” some five years before?  Whatever it was, the young woman’s death and fleeting flashbacks the film shows suggest Stan and this woman had a very strong relationship.

What follows, in the present, are more victims, including one of the original officers on Stan’s group, and hidden messages in the scene of each crime.  The term “anamorph”, as we find, relates to clues left behind by the killer.  In this case, the killer is referring to old paintings that, when viewed head on, reveal an image.  When looked at from another, sometimes severe angle, a hidden image within the painting becomes apparent.  Our killer, as it turns out, is hiding clues in his artfully designed slaughters.

Given the hidden message concept, the viewer is thus clued in that we are dealing with hidden meanings in this movie, as well.

As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Stan may have dirtier hands in this whole affair than is first apparent.  To begin, and as mentioned before, he has flashbacks to the events of five years before, from the raid to the last murder attributed to “Uncle Eddie”, the young woman Stan had some kind of relationship to.  In the flashback to that last murder, Stan arrives at the scene of the crime after the fact.  The last victim lies on a dock beside the water.  However, later in the film, Stan recounts to the woman’s friend that HE pulled her out of the water, that HE held her until she let out her last breath.  Yet clearly in his earlier flashbacks Stan arrives AFTER she is removed from the water and well AFTER she’s dead.  Adding further confusion to the whole thing is that later still in the film, Stan appears to have flashbacks of the woman being stabbed before falling into the water.  The flashbacks, up to that moment, were personal to Stan.  Were these flashbacks also Stan’s?  Did HE kill the woman?

That implication seems to be the case.  But where the film ultimately -and sadly- fails is that too much is left for the viewers to sort out, and details are left so vague that arguments can be made for too many alternatives.  For example, one could assume that Stan had an affair with this woman, and it went sour while he was investigating the original “Uncle Eddie” crimes.  Now (and I’m guessing here) it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Stan killed the woman and made it look like it was the work of “Uncle Eddie”.  After all, his police task force already had an idea who “Uncle Eddie” was and were closing in on the killer.  Stan, in this scenario, commits the “final” “Uncle Eddie” crime knowing the police (and he) will soon arrest the killer.  After Stan commits this crime and his group raids the suspected “Uncle Eddie” house, the man is killed, thus “resolving” the crimes without anyone suspecting that Stan performed that last murder.

Sounds good…except that if this was indeed the case, then Stan, to cover his tracks, has to be the one to kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie” in the raid.  After all, it is not in Stan’s interests that the man be taken alive.  If he were, there would be the very real possibility that this man might admit to all his crimes yet (of course) deny having anything to do with that last killing.  Once he does, and given Stan’s relationship with the last victim, wouldn’t the police begin to eye him as a suspect in that crime?  Thus and as mentioned, Stan has to be the one to kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie” in the raid.  He can’t just hope someone else does the deed.  But the fact is that Stan DOES NOT kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie”.  In fact, I didn’t even get the impression he was gunning for him during the raid at all.  If anything, he seemed to be hanging back.

So the mind wanders again…Perhaps Stan IS “Uncle Eddie”, and the man who committed these new crimes IS a copycat “Uncle Eddie”, albeit one that knows Stan was the original.  But that also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The crimes are so damn elaborate that it seems impossible someone could simply “copy” something so extravagant.  And, further, if Stan was the real “Uncle Eddie”, then wouldn’t he have figured out the copycat and his methodology a whole lot quicker?  Add to the mix at least one character, an art dealer, who may or may not be a figment of Stan’s imagination and you’ve got even more confusion.

Still, despite all these criticisms, I admit the film kept me watching until its (very vague) ending.  So, to reiterate, I cannot recommend this film to those seeking a movie that offers at least some sort of clear resolution to the plot presented.  If you’re still curious to see the movie, do so.  But this is one case where I can’t help but wish the filmmakers offered more solid clues as to what path they wanted the viewers to follow.

Roger Moore…the Best James Bond?

Once again reaching into my bag of old posts, this one is from December of 2009.  I re-post it because very recently I also re-posted my thoughts on the Roger Moore Bond film Moonraker (read about that here) and decided to post my slightly more detailed opinions on all of Mr. Moore’s Bond films in light of an article from Entertainment Weekly.  Re-post begins in 3…2…1…

This article ran a couple of weeks ago in Entertainment Weekly and is available to be viewed online:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20244755,00.html

To many, Sean Connery IS James Bond, but I have to admit, I’m not as hostile as some are regarding Roger Moore’s take on the character. He was certainly different in the role, and if there is some criticism to point out about his take on the character, it is that at times he seemed a little too suave and/or fancy to be a killer secret agent.  But to me the Moore Bond film’s worst “sin” was that for each “good” one released it seemed to almost always follow that the next one would be mediocre or downright wretched.

For what it’s worth, my take on Mr. Moore’s Bond films.

The Best:  For Your Eyes Only – Granted, those watching it for the first time today may feel it is tame, but I loved the stripped down -and non-gadgetry filled- plot.  The stunt-work is also first rate.  Only real debit is that Roger Moore was beginning to look a little old for the role.  The Spy Who Loved Me – I suspect even those who don’t think much of Roger Moore’s Bond films like this one, a reworking/remake of You Only Live Twice (my least favorite Sean Connery Bond film).  Unlike YOLT, the plot here was presented, in my opinion, far better than in the Connery vehicle.  Jaws (Richard Kiel) makes for a truly memorable heavy.  Only real debit is that Barbara Bach (the spy who loved him) turns out to be more of a damsel in distress than the deadly Russian spy she’s advertised to be.  Certainly a sign of those times.  I suspect if the film were remade today, her character would be far more independent and lethal.  Live and Let Die – Moore’s first outing as Bond was one of the actor’s best. He appeared incredibly comfortable in the role, as if he had always been there.  The plot is rather nonsensical (and some today might even argue borderline racist), but the action sequences (especially an escape from a pond filled with alligators that has to be seen to be believed) make this an enjoyable romp.

The Good-But-Not-Great Moore Bond:  Octopussy – Roger Moore was looking very old by this point (this was his second to last outing as the super spy), but the film was nonetheless an enjoyable “let’s-hit-the-audience-with-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” tongue-in-cheek action extravaganza…at least to me.  On the other hand, I can’t argue too strenuously with those who view the film far less charitably.  Again, I think its a decent -if not great- film.

The Worst Roger Moore Bond films:  The Man With The Golden Gun – You would think that after the success of Live and Let Die the people behind and in front of the cameras would re-work their magic of the previous film, improve upon it, and give us an even better bang for our buck their second time out.  You’d be wrong.  TMWTGG is so lukewarm and forgettable that I’m still astonished the movie’s villain, Scaramanga, is played by the legendary Christopher Lee…and even he is not all that interesting.  Worse, the final encounter between Bond and Scaramanga, something the film was building up to during its entire run time, winds up being too brief and incredibly anticlimactic.  A major disappointment.  Moonraker – Roger Moore’s worst Bond feature, although if you hunt around some of my previous posts, you’ll find that upon seeing it again recently, I had to admit the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film was not all that bad.  The rest of it, alas, remains pretty dreadful.  A View To A Kill – Moore’s last swing at Bond proves a strikeout.  David Bowie (by now you must know how I feel about him) was at the time sought by the movie’s producers to play the villain, but when he backed out Christopher Walken (sporting a definite David Bowie “Let’s Dance”-era look) stepped in.  Mr. Walken and Duran Duran’s theme song may be the only good thing about this weak, weak film, which also features one of the most nonsensical plots.

A second look at Moonraker (1979)

Another re-post from my original blog.  This post first appeared in April of 2009…

I’m a fan of many of the James Bond films.

My favorite Bond was the first, Sean Connery, and my two favorite Connery Bonds are From Russia With Love and (yes, I admit it) Diamonds Are Forever.  One is “serious” while the other is decidedly tongue in cheek and, again to me, quite hilarious (and, lest you think I don’t like the others Connery made, I do, including perennial favorite Goldfinger.  In fact, the only Connery Bond that hasn’t impressed me is You Only Live Twice.  To the fans of that film, sorry…it just doesn’t do it for me.)

Roger Moore, after George Lazenby’s single outing, proved a strong, albeit different James Bond.  However, his films were far more inconsistent and it seemed he had a good film followed by a pretty dreadful one.  For Your Eyes Only is my all-time favorite Moore Bond film, with The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die, and Octopussy ranking in descending order from there.  In between those good films, sadly, was the terribly mediocre The Man With The Golden Gun (considering they had the legendary Christopher Lee playing the bad guy, this film should have been A LOT better than it was), the outright terrible A View To A Kill (Moore was looking really old by that point), and the movie I felt was the worst Bond ever made: Moonraker.

In fact, it seemed the producers of the Bond films realized Moonraker was a mistake and went to back to basics in For Your Eyes Only, the film that immediately followed.  This week, Moonraker was released on Blu-Ray DVD, and for the first time since its original release way back in 1979, I sat down and watched the movie from start to end.  How did it fair after all that time?

To begin, my original Moonraker viewing experience was…troubled.  I watched the film with the family at a Drive-In Theatre (the last time we would ever go to one together).  The family that parked next to our car, however, came to party.  Moments after arriving they had their stereo going LOUD, as if they were the only people there and souring us almost immediately to the whole movie experience to come.  Even worse, when the screen finally lit up, instead of seeing Moonraker we were “treated” to Corvette Summer, a terrible “car chase” film.  To this day I’m still not sure why the Theatre didn’t announce we were watching a double feature.

By the time Moonraker finally started, it was very late and we were exhausted, both from the partying family next to us and the unexpected (and quite bad) film we had to endure.  There was a glimmer of hope, however, when Moonraker started.  Alas, that glimmer was dashed pretty quickly.  As I said before, I consider Moonraker the worst of the Bond films.  Despite all the crap we had to endure before seeing the film, we were open to it and hoped we would see something special.  Instead, we left the Drive-In thoroughly defeated.  Bond had let us down.

Since that time, Moonraker has popped up on TV now and again and I’ve watched bits and pieces but never bothered to see the whole thing until now.  Target had the Blu-Ray Moonraker on sale for a ridiculously low price, and I figured I’d give the movie another try and see if it remains as bad as I recalled.

I don’t want to keep you in suspense: The film remains one of the worst of the Bonds, in my opinion, but, curiously, I saw the glimmer of a potentially good Bond film right there on the screen, if only the producers had decided to play things “straight” instead of going for over the top silliness.

For example, the first twenty or so minutes of the film, the excellent opening skydiving sequence, the hijacking of the Moonraker shuttle, and Bond’s first meeting with the evil Drax (up to the way Drax takes care of an employee that had the misfortune of getting too close to Bond) are quite good.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say the opening twenty or so minutes of Moonraker is very strong.

Unfortunately, the film then decided to go gadget crazy, first with the ridiculous Venice gondola sequence (which could easily have been cut from the film entirely) to the cable car sequence (this led to another of the film’s really crappy turns: Jaws falling in love) to the Bond boat sequence (Bond takes out two of the three boats pursuing him in the Amazon…he’s so far ahead of his pursuers in terms of technology and weaponry…and he chooses to abandon his boat?!), to the overblown space fight.

And let’s not forget Bond’s “crafty” way of escaping vaporization by shuttle lift-off just before he embarks on his own space adventure.  He’s tied down to a seat under an about to be launched space shuttle and the villain is so lazy he doesn’t strip him of all possible means of escape, including the curious watch he wears.  Worse, this was easily one of the worst examples of “If you’re going to kill him, why not just put a bullet through his head and be done with it?”

But, but, but….While I still feel Moonraker ranks low on the Bond movie list, I have to admit there were things within the film that kept me interested.  And even though the film’s plot took several wrong turns, there was the glimmer of a much better work just below the surface.  For all the bad feelings I’ve had about Moonraker over the years, I can’t help but wonder if the producers had only taken their work a little more seriously, this could easily have been one of the better, not worst, of the Bond films.

 

Telefon (1977)

As I continue to go over some of my previous blog posts, I’m finding ones here and there that I feel are worth re-posting.  Here then are some musings about the 1977 Charles Bronson film Telefon.

One of the more frustrating/depressing things about getting older is that you find many of the films you cherish are being remade.

Did we really need a remake of the very unique, classic sci-fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still?  What about The Wicker Man? If you’ve seen the mind-bending original, a work that simply could not be made today, did you really think this film could be remade/reworked into something worthwhile?  And coming soon, a film that has already been remade (for television in 1998): The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

That’s not to say I’m against film remakes.

One of my all time favorite films, The Maltese Falcon, was the third (and best, of course) theatrical version of the classic Dashiell Hammet story.  But I bring this up because the other night I was watching the 1977 Don Siegel directed, Charles Bronson actioner Telefon.

Telefon is a very entertaining action film that features a rather unique plot: During the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union “programmed” some fifty people to commit specific, horrific acts of military sabotage within the United States.  These people were subsequently brainwashed and planted throughout our nation and given new identities as American citizens.  Their brainwashing was so complete that, at the movie’s present date, none of them have the least awareness that they are in actuality Soviet sleeper agents awaiting activation.

But as the Cold War dragged on and overtures were made to establish a detante between the super powers, the years inevitably passed and the sleeper agents fully enmeshed into their American lives, still completely unaware of their Soviet “programming”.  Some are successful, others are not.  Some have married and have kids while others remain single.  All the sleeper agents are approaching retirement age.  Unfortunately for them, a power struggle within the USSR and a messy purge has caused a renegade officer (played with manic glee by Donald Pleasance) to jump the pond and activate one sleeper after another.  His goal is to heat up the now dormant Cold War.  Upon realizing the danger, the USSR recruits KGB Major Grigari Borzov (Charles Bronson) to go undercover to the United States and root out and eliminate Pleasance before he causes a nuclear war.

Now, this film is a perfectly good escapist piece of entertainment, even if it’s not what one would classify as a bona fide “classic”.  But in this day and age of suicide bombers and terrorist fears, wouldn’t this film’s concept, with some modern twists, work pretty well?  Unlike some of the other films being remade of late, this might be one worth revisiting.

Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a good, suspenseful little action film, you’d do much worse than catching Telefon.

Island of Lost Souls (1932) a (incredibly belated) review

The first -and only- time I saw The Island of Lost Souls it was on PBS…I’m guessing probably somewhere in the very early 1980’s.  Certainly no later than 1984 or 85.  The movie stuck with me…there was something incredibly savage about it, almost primevil.  And yet, I could remember very few of the film’s details…in fact, apart from the climax, almost none.  I actually had a better memory of story details in the 1977 remake of the film, The Island of Dr. Moreau, than I did of this one.

Regardless, the memory that I had witnessed something special stuck with me.  It was for the most part impossible to find the film on VHS and then Laserdisc and DVD, so  I never had the opportunity to revisit it.  Until now.

The good folks at Criterion have released a Blu Ray edition of The Island of Lost Souls. That company treats their releases as if they were royalty, finding excellent prints and often giving very nice special material to complement the movie itself.  What was even more exciting was seeing that the film would be released on Blu Ray in its full theatrical edition.  When The Island of Lost Souls was originally released, it created something of a furor and trims were made to remove some of the more…excessive…stuff.

By today’s standards, that “excessive stuff” is, for the most part, pretty tame. However, there remains some material -Moreau’s sexual depravity and sadism- that might still turn people’s heads, if only a little.

The great Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau, a very strange man who owns his own uncharted island and has a collection of equally strange looking servants.  The story proper, however, begins when Edward Parker (Richard Arlen, quite excellent in the protagonist/hero role), a shipwrecked sailor, being found by a trawler.  He meets up with Mr. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), a man who is on his way with a gaggle of animals in cages to take to Dr. Moreau’s island.  From the very first scene, it is clear that Montgomery is a decent man who is clearly in a situation that he loathes.

Through circumstance, Parker winds up going to Dr. Moreau’s island.  Once there, he becomes a pawn of Moreau’s insane experiments.

Considering the movie was released in 1932 and the H. G. Wells book it was based on in 1896, it is remarkable to see a movie reach for scientific advances and concepts that were many, many decades away from realization.  This is perhaps the most remarkable thing one takes away from this movie.  Like Jules Verne, who theorized about things like airships, submarines, and trips to the Moon long before such things came to be, Mr. Wells in that novel theorizes about genetics and DNA manipulation when such things were a very far way of.

Yet Mr. Wells and the makers of this film succeed in their allusions to things not yet in existence, creating a frightening scenario where man tries to alter flesh and species to recreate it in his own demented image.  Dr. Moreau, as presented in this film, is clearly mad.  But what is most frightening, in the end, is how close he is to his mad ambitions.

Needless to say, I highly, highly recommend this film.

 

Hanna (2011) a (mildly belated) review

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a film that has all the ingredients to be a major success (great actors, a decent budget, an intriguing concept) fall flat on its face.

I read the reviews of Hanna when it was first released and was impressed with the positives. I liked the plot idea, too, of a young teen bred for warfare going up against the people who created her. It was an edgy concept, not all that different in concept from the intro material in my very own novel Mechanic (shameless plug!).

But, upon finally seeing the film yesterday, my disappointment was great. You had a great cast, a decent budget, but a film that was directed, alas, by someone who seemed intent on creating an arty Euro-tinged fable rather than a gripping/gritty action thriller.  Mind you, there are plenty of “arty Euro-tinged fables” I happen to enjoy quite immensely (One of my three all time favorite films is Orpheus, which one could describe as exactly that!).  Hanna, however, was screaming for something more in your face.  The movie was soft where it should have been hard, introspective when it should have been explosive, and heavy handed when it should have been sure footed and sleek.

Worse, some of the action scenes, in particular the sequence where Erik (Eric Bana) takes on four CIA killers in a Berlin subway, looked like the actors were in the early stages of doing rehearsals rather than actually filming what should have been a crushing fight to the death. Oh what circa 1984-90 James Cameron would have done with this material!

Interestingly, this is the second film in as many months that I’ve seen where I get the feeling the original script/story was probably darker and more complex than what we eventually saw in theaters. The first such film was Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol (I re-posted the original review here and haven’t changed my mind regarding where I believe it was originally going).

For Hanna, I began to feel the story was changed toward the movie’s last third. When the character of Erik (Hanna’s “father”) is fleshed out and Hanna’s identity/background is revealed, I figured for sure the movie would move into much darker territory. After all, her “father” is an agent betrayed. Why make his and Hanna’s survival made known to their most moral enemies?  What purpose could doing so, other than draw out his enemy, serve?  And once he makes Hanna announce herself, why split up with his daughter at that point and send her to get his revenge?  In the (theoretical) original story, was he less than the seemingly caring father he seemed?  Likewise, is Hanna herself in that possible original story perhaps more of a Frankenstein monster, whose outward emotions are about to be exposed as a sham?  She is, after all, designed to be a soldier.  She is, in the words of one of the characters, less emotional, more calculating.  Deadly.  And what of CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett)? Could it turn out, in the end, that despite her seeming evil in the movie’s early going, she in actuality is trying to do good and stop a potential monster from being unleashed onto an unknowing public?

Perhaps I’m over thinking things and all these story ideas that did not materialize within the movie were never a part of what Hanna was about. Regardless, this is a film that despite much good, is ultimately too slow, too frustrating, and too pointless to recommend.

Pass.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) a (right on time!) review

I’m re-posting this review here (it was in my original, now defunct blog that used to be in this place).  I’ve revised it a bit for clarity, but it is essentially all here:

Short review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a fun, exciting action film with some truly great action sequences that will have viewers -especially those who went to see the film in IMAX- on the edge of their seat.  Only real minus: the villain, Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), isn’t terribly well developed.  He’s just “there”, a deadly threat who is being chased throughout the film but, in the end, a character who isn’t defined much beyond being a bad guy who wants to start a nuclear war between the Soviets and the USA.   I would even recommend the movie to those who may have had their fill of Tom Cruise.  Set those feelings aside.  He’s awfully good in this movie, as is the “team” around him.

SPOILER-filled review follows!

Have you ever seen a film that, upon exiting the theaters, you could tell it underwent some major revisions in the story it was trying to tell?

Note, for example, how the original Lethal Weapon began:  The movie starts with a pretty young (and topless!) woman very graphically falling to her death from a ten story building.  We then switch over to a mentally damaged Vietnam vet (Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs) who is doubly traumatized by the war and the recent death of the love of his life.   He’s a man who wanders naked in his trailer home, drinking heavily while building up the courage to -quite literally- blow his brains out.  After this very heavy and melodramatic start, what should happen?   The film makes a very sudden shift in tone and becomes a slapstick action/comedy, with Riggs acting more and more like a missing member of the three stooges!  The most incredible thing?  Despite that R-rated “grindhouse”-type start, the shift worked!   To this day, I suspect the original script of the film was more in line with those first ten or so minutes of the movie, but the director and actors decided to move into other territory, eschewing the script in the process.

But changing a film on the fly doesn’t always work quite as well.  I was so excited when the original Tim Burton-directed Batman was about to be released that I purchased and read the film’s novelization before the movie’s release.  Upon seeing the film, I was surprised to find the second half of the novel and the second half of the movie were completely different.  The differences between the novel and what appeared on the screen, I could only guess, were the result of the novel’s author going by the film’s screenplay while Mr. Burton and company deciding while filming to eschew the screenplay and go their own way.  This, in turn, explains why the second half of the movie was so…out there.  Note, however, that what was in the novel was not all that much better.  The original Batman film was cursed with a great opening but a weak conclusion.

In a very roundabout way, this leads us back to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  Upon seeing the film, I was satisfied with the experience, as mentioned above, but I immediately suspected there were some big changes made to the movie’s script, changes that made a darker, more labyrinthine story far more simple.  For if there is one thing anyone who sees the movie should realize is that the film presents numerous very, very strong hints that someone within the Impossible Missions group (IMF for short) is a traitor.  And yet, despite all those very clear indications early on, by the time the film ends, that element is completely discarded and ignored!

Allow me to present my case.

In the film, we begin with a botched mission involving Josh Hollaway’s Hanaway, Paula Patton’s Jane, and Simon Pegg’s Benji.  In a train station Hanaway pilfers a file and is immediately (indeed, almost too quickly) identified by the bad guys and is given chase.  Hanaway eludes the bad guys, but just when he thinks he’s gotten away, he is confronted by Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) a beautiful female blond assassin who shoots him and steals the prized file.

Jane, Hanaway’s teammate and (we find) girlfriend, arrives just as he draws his last breaths.  Tears are shed for the lost teammate/boyfriend and the story proper then begins.  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) joins the remains of that original team and continues their mission.

They’re off, with only four or so hours to spare, to infiltrate the Kremlin and steal some nuclear missile codes that, in conjunction with the now lost file Hanaway had, will allow the big bad guy the ability to launch a nuclear weapon.  As it turns out, the big bad guy, Hendricks, is already in the Kremlin, stealing the files right under the nose of Ethan Hunt and his group (or is he?  More on that in a second).  Not only that, Hendricks knows the IMF is there, and makes a fake radio message on their radio frequency (which the Russians hear) implicating them for what follows: a massive bomb that takes out a section of the Kremlin.

Thus, in very short order our bad guy has had the jump on the IMF team not once, but twice.  But how would he know what they’re doing in such a short period of time?  There is only one possibility, of course:  Someone in that group is a mole and tipped him off.

Later in the film, the team is in Dubai.  The female blonde assassin, Sabine, is selling the file she took from Hanaway to Hendricks.  The IMF team is forced to separate the buyer from the seller because a key piece of their tech malfunctioned (as presented in the final cut of the film, this is just an innocent thing.  But if we are to assume one of the IMF members is a mole…).  Because of the malfunction in the equipment, the big bad, or rather his henchman, has to be given the actual nuclear codes because he brought along someone who can verify them.

The teams separate, in a clever set piece where buyers and sellers and their files/pay is swapped.   The upside to all this is that Ethan is forced to chase after Hendricks’ henchman while Jane, still nursing extreme hatred toward Sabine for what she did to her boyfriend, has to guard the blonde assassin.   Before this, Ethan Hunt had drilled into the team the need to keep Sabine alive.   She is an “asset”, he says, and Jane can get her revenge on Sabine AFTER they have gotten intel from her.

But what does Jane do with Sabine?

She has Benji guard her while she blows off steam in the bathroom.  She leaves a deadly killer who -incredibly!- hasn’t been subdued or handcuffed, to be guarded by the team member who is least qualified to take care of her!  Of course, Sabine busts loose.  Belatedly Jane jumps into action, fighting Sabine and eventually kicking her out of the building and to her death.  Dead men/women, as they say, tell no tales.

Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt chases Hendricks’ henchman through Dubai.  In the course of the chase, Ethan grabs at the henchman’s face, ripping off a piece of it.  Ethan is shocked to realize the henchman is wearing an IMF face mask disguise!

It was precisely at that point in the film that (I thought!) the movie’s plot became crystal clear.   The “henchman,” I was certain, was in actuality Josh Holloway’s Hanaway.  He wasn’t really killed by Sabine after all.  And because it was his girlfriend, Jane, at his side when he supposedly “died”, that meant she too knew he was still alive.

Things fell into place.

Which of the IMF people was outside the Kremlin when the explosion went off?  Jane.  Of the three members of the IMF, she was in the safest place when the explosion occurred -on purpose!- and she was the one that made sure the IMF people were right where they needed to be.  She set the trap.

Backing up a little, it was now clear Hanaway and Jane had also subcontracted Sabine to get the file and fake Hanaway’s death.  That in turn explained why the IMF equipment malfunctioned (Jane sabotaged it) and also explained why Jane mysteriously left Sabine alone with the inexperienced Benji.  Sabine likely thought Jane was giving her an opportunity to escape while in reality Jane was setting up another double cross to plausibly be “forced” to kill the blonde assassin despite Ethan Hunt’s repeated instructions she be kept alive.  Returning to Hendricks’ appearance within the Kremlin:  Clearly it was Hanaway disguised as Hendricks who was actually there.  After all, wasn’t it odd how he almost made himself be seen by Ethan Hunt?

Now, I was certain, as Ethan Hunt grasped the piece of facial disguise, he was aware of this subterfuge.   He knew Hanaway was alive.  After all, who but an IMF agent would use such a disguise?  For all we knew, the supposed big bad guy, Michael Nyqvist’s Hendricks, may not have even been alive anymore.  The bad guys, all along, were Hanaway and Jane.  It all made so much sense.

And then the movie proceeded.

Ethan Hunt looks up at the henchman, whom he had just ripped part of his disguise off of.  The bad guy is in the back of a truck, quickly moving away from Ethan Hunt’s reach.   The bad guy rips the rest of the mask off, revealing he’s… Hendricks.

HUH!?!

As the movie continued to its end, this little reveal made increasingly less sense.   First off, why would Hendricks go to Dubai disguised as his own henchman?   Later in the film, when the actual henchman appears at his side, we find the man is in complete lock step with his boss…to the point where he’s very willing to die for their shared beliefs.  Again, why would Hendricks show up personally in Dubai, dressed as his own henchman when the guy is so clearly loyal to him?   It made no sense.  When the film was over, I was more convinced than ever that the original story had Josh Holloway’s Hanaway and Paula Patton’s Jane as the “big bads”.   But maybe during production of the film all those double crosses were considered a little too much and the decision was made to streamline the story.

Thus, Hanaway dies at the start of the film, period.  Jane is one of the good guys, period.   Hendricks is the bad guy, period.  Despite mountains of evidence, there is no mole.  Hendricks has the jump on the IMF force several times because…well…because he’s a very smart bad guy.  No more explanation offered or needed.

Much simpler.  Yet not nearly as satisfying.  Still, it didn’t destroy the film and I continue to recommend it.  However, I do think the film could/should have been even better, if indeed it originally had these concepts.