I thought the IMF stood for International Monetary Fund. Then I realised it had something to do with Tom Cruise. Somehow I had missed ‘Mission Impossible’ nos 2-5, after being bored witless by the first one, which for me ruined the premise of the TV series by blowing away the entire team except for little Tom Cruise. But I though, hey, it’s got 5-star reviews, you should give the new one a chance.
The idea of an international spy/fixer and his team racing against time to extract a corrupt mastermind, using imposters and exotic locations isn’t exclusive to ‘Mission Impossible’. ‘The Man with a Thousand Faces’, the new film from Alberto Rodriguez, may sound as if it has the same plot but the Spanish tale is a (heavily embellished) true story, told in a style closer to ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ than one of Ethan Hawke’s stunt reels. Last night I watched both films.
Sitting through ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’, I found myself longing for the release that death might bring. This expensive, revved-up chunk of fan service features not one thing seasoned filmgoers haven’t seen a million times before, with the exception of Henry Cavill’s excellent moustache. Admittedly it had everything thrown into it; evil mastermind, bomb countdown, rooftop chase, dangling/ falling off tall things, helicopters, gunfire, ageing star, cheeky English sidekick, adoring women, a McGuffin involving spherical bombs that could have been labelled BOMB for even easier identification, scenes in which two people hold a meeting in front of Notre Dame cathedral for no apparent reason, a do-I-cut-the-red-or-the-green-wire defusing scene, and some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard in any film created after ‘The Jazz Singer’. Afterwards I realised I hadn’t the faintest idea what it had been about. At all. Nothing lingered, not an image or dialogue line, nada.
Earlier I had staved off rainy day blues by watching ‘The Man with a Thousand Faces’, now given the equally lousy title ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and dumped onto Netflix. This the true story of a man who fooled an entire country, an international tale of cheats and impostors involving one of the most intriguing characters of recent decades: the enigmatic spy Francisco Paesa, who fixed things so that corrupt Spanish Civil Guard chief Luis Roldán could vanish with 1.5 billion in a hidden bank account. Along the way there are double and triple-crosses in a plot that will taint everyone in power. When the film was shown at the San Sebastian Film Festival, one duplicitous character saying ‘The Spanish government never makes deals’ brought the house down.
This plays like the other IMF, and feels horribly believable. The real crimes – money laundering, epic embezzlement, killing people – take place in dull, expensive hotels and restaurants, or at banking desks. The conflicts occur between middle-aged men in tailored suits at hotels and in airports. Paesa is a complex figure, a still, calm centre in the hurricane of corruption that makes you want to trust him with your innermost secrets. Weirdly, even though there’s no biffing-while-hanging-from-a-helicopter, I found these quietly talking characters far more thrilling than Mr Cruise, but as Stewart Lee says, ‘Not everything is aimed at you’, and ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ is perfect for anyone who has never seen a motion picture before. Whereas ‘El Hombre…’ is for grown-ups.