Minutia Madness: Mission: Impossible III
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is… Minutia Madness!!!
Mission: Impossible III
Written by Alex Kurtzman & Robert Orci and J.J. Abrams; Directed by J.J. Abrams
Remember that time Tom Cruise jumped on a couch and effectively ruined all the great work he had accomplished in his career both past and future? Remember that time Tom Cruise became a scientologist and the butt of a bunch of crappy anti-scientology jokes at the same time! Remember that time Tom Cruise told Matt Lauer a bunch of stuff about prescription drugs? Of course you do! Remember that time M:I:III was one of the best, if not the best, straight up action movie of 2006? No. Why would you? Tom Cruise is in it. And he cray-cray!
Funny thing is, even though Tom Cruise may be one of the reasons I think M:I is one of the Best Action Movie Franchises, he isn’t even the focus of today’s article (talk about cray-cray!). I’m talking about the other great actor, you know, Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s only churned out some of the most powerful performances EVER put on film. And here he has the opportunity to sit back, chew up some scenery, phone it in, and/or perform for the paycheck only. Except he doesn’t do any of that nonsense. He is a real actor and it doesn’t matter what he does, whether it be rom-com, quirky drama, or award winning drama, by golly he is going to do his best.Normally an action movie badguy has to do a bunch of evil stuff throughout the movie to remind us he is not nice. Besides the opening scene, which chronologically comes later in the film, he doesn’t really do anything that bad. Hoffman plays it more like a dedicated business man minus a sense of humor and plus a touch of scumbag. After a daring kidnapping by the IMF crew, the goodguy and badguy come face to face. Normally (again, chronologically) it is the badguy who has the upper hand on the goodguy the first time they meet. That way you show the goodguy at his lowest and he has something to overcome and you root for him to achieve this goal. Their first meeting rarely ends in the goodguy successfully kidnapping and tying up the baddie to interrogate him (unless its a trick by the badguy! watch out! they can’t be trusted!).
Goodguys are also generally restricted by their honorable code of ethics. They can’t torture as well as the badguys, because they care. They care so much about doing the ‘right’ thing that they will often jeopardize entire missions or innocent people by not using violence to get an answer (no matter how much they threaten to). Instead they have to rely on their quick wits, brute strength, and extreme coincidences of good luck in their favor. Therefore it makes sense that when Ethan Hunt starts putting on his ‘tough guy’ act Davian doesn’t play along. At all. Not even to amuse himself or make Ethan think he’s got the upperhand. Right from the get go Davian starts pushing back.
In true Minutia Madness fashion… pay special close attention to this clip and what Hoffman say’s he’ll do when he finds his captor’s loved one:
The clip isn’t on YouTube, but can be found here. (WordPress gave me a hard time ’embedding’ said clip)
Did you guess it? The specific choice of the word “hurt” PLUS the emphasis on the ‘h’ (all Hoffman on that addition).
We live in a world today where everything must be exaggerated to its most hyperbolic. It no longer is good enough to just be good, something has to be great just to catch someones attention. An actor can no longer just give a terrific performance, it has to be the one of the “most powerful performances EVER put on film” (see: above) for anyone to even think of liking it. Phrases like “the best” and “the worst” are thrown around like candy at a parade (they still do that, right?). For instance “OMG that chocolate cake was THE BEST but it took me over 15 minutes to get to the bakery. UGH. Traffic jams are THE WORST.” Yeah…
In context of the scene, Davian is a powerful arms dealer who is a bit spoiled, as shown by his fancy suits, invitations to parties at The Vatican, and his annoyed reaction when he gets red wine spilled all over him. He probably does not like being tied up and having secret agents asking him to share details on his work. Especially when he probably has moles in every organization (including IMF) that should have warned him about this and/or prevented it. Needless to say, he’s probably pissed the fuck off.
But…He restrains himself. Doesn’t lose his cool. Keeps his composure. He studies his opponent. Let’s him ask some questions. Doesn’t even bother saying he won’t answer them. He just knows. He knows someone like this, putting on such a show, has to have a weak point. Instead of going for the jugular, he goes for the heart. Instead of spouting out Homer-esque epic poems about how ‘you will reap the day you DARE kidnap me!!!’ and resorting to the usual over blown best/worst exaggerated diatribes and cliche threats… he goes for the deep cut. Calm, cool, and calculated he doesn’t even need to over play the torture aspect. Why spend paragraphs illustrating your point by point breakdown of your plan (which always works out oh-so-well for badguys) when you can say something with as many words as you can count on one hand (I’m going to hurt her).
Again, it’s not just the choice, but that lingering on the letter ‘h’ as if to express some pleasure from it. Here’s a man who even later when breaking out of his jail van and flying away on a helicopter, doesn’t give a diabolical laugh or so much as even a ‘fuck you’ smirk. Davian is all business. His warlord partying days are behind him. He does this now as a way of life. He’s not hell bent on world destruction or seeing the people of Earth burn alive. He just wants a paycheck. He isn’t a masochist who just so happened to become a powerful badguy, he just became a powerful badguy through hard work and dedication (the American way). So for him it’s not about just hurting someone that gives him pleasure, but specifically hurting the loved on of a professional rival. He gets pleasure in being the best and rubbing it in.
The scene ends with a great moment of one-uppery where Davian now knows what agency he’s dealing with (getting the rise out of Tom Cruise when mentioning Keri Russell’s character) and knowing his name. The movie also has awesome moments like Tom Cruise having “enough” (one) bullet to take out a troublesome baddie, a fantastic rooftop to street level crane shot, a semi-romantic quiet moment between Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers being interrupted by Cruise in need of immediate help, and of course, the bridge scene, which is textbook action awesomeness.
So what do you think? Is Hhhhhoffman’s particular un-hhhhhyperbolic word choice that much of a hhhhhhigh point in the movie? Or am I just crazy for focusing on this minute detail?