Mission: Impossible III (12A)
Fateless (12A)

The biggest bang yet

We could spend a lot of time here batting around the various implausibilities of plotting and action, the dubious moral assumptions that underpin the film's worldview, and the question of why much of it was shot on location in China (recognition of shifting geopolitical realities, or just to make Tom Cruise look taller?). But I'm guessing you are more interested in a concise view on whether this latest instalment delivers the bangs for your buck. So yes, it does: all the bangs you could possibly want and, more surprisingly, delivered with a sense of narrative rhythm and even restraint. In this respect, Mission: Impossible 3 is a step forward for the franchise: indeed, a step forward for the big-budget Hollywood action spectacular generally.

The film opens on a high note, with a beaten, bloody Cruise strapped into a chair while a blond-coiffed Philip Seymour Hoffman threatens to do terrible things to a pretty woman unless Cruise reveals to him the whereabouts of something called "the rabbit's foot". The whole scene throbs with a teasing tension, the tease exacerbated by the abrupt manner in which it is shut down to make way for the inevitable theme tune. After that, the action moves into flashback mode.

Ethan Hunt, Cruise's espionage superman, having retired from the field to train agents, has found time to develop a romantic life (his domestic happiness provides most of the film's few dull moments). In any case, things soon pick up: Ethan gets a phonecall offering him the chance of an all-expenses paid trip to Mexico. This is the coded message that will open the door once more to a world of mayhem and betrayal.

One of Hunt's trainees has been kidnapped by the man she was shadowing, an arms dealer named Owen Davian (Hoffman); Hunt's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to fly to Berlin to pluck her from the flames. To help him, he yet again has Luther Stickell, Ving Rhames's loyal wise-ass techno-whiz, this time assisted by Declan, a reckless Irish smoothie played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Maggie Q's oriental beauty Zhen, both parts somewhat underwritten.

The subsequent twists and turns of the story needn't concern us here, though not because I'm worried about giving the game away. The director, JJ Abrams, was the creative force behind the TV series Lost and Alias, but the television series that springs to mind here is 24, both in the sorts of pressure it brings to bear on its hero and in the repertoire of bluff and counter-bluff. I had to stop watching 24 because I'd got too used to the rhythm of it, and it stopped being surprising. But, as Hitchcock recognised in his dictum about letting the audience see the bomb ticking under the table, surprise is an overrated element in thrillers.

In his sense of what an audience needs to know, Abrams is a true Hitchcockian. The rabbit's foot, for example, remains what Hitchcock called a McGuffin, an undefined excuse around which a plot can revolve. Simon Pegg, in a well-judged supporting role as the team's Brit-born computer boffin, speculates that it is "the anti-God", a theoretical super-virus capable of destroying life on earth; alternatively, with a price-tag of $850m, it may just be "a very expensive bunny's appendage". The lack of interest in resolving the ambiguity is a gratifying sign of Abrams's confidence.

Even more gratifying, though, is the climactic burglary of a Shanghai skyscraper, in which the rabbit's foot is concealed. Here, Ethan has to swing his way on to the skyscraper's ski-slope roof, get inside, fight his way past several floors of highly trained guards, fight his way back up to the roof, and parachute down to a nearby park. It's going to be the biggest, fastest, craziest action sequence of a film that's packed with them (all of them, by the way, expertly choreographed and filmed), but, taking the franchise's "with one bound, Jack was free" logic to its conclusion, Abrams doesn't show what happens. Cruise is in, he's out: the in-between is, unbelievably, left to the audience's imagination.

In its final 15 minutes the film falls a little flat, and it is dismaying to find out that the inevitable mole's villainous motive is a wish to provoke the US into intervening more aggressively in the world's affairs - apparently, it doesn't count as intervention if you wear latex masks and use lasers. But the incidental pleasures are many: Hoffman, of course, as a convincingly bloodless sociopath, and Laurence Fishburne, amusement barely suppressed as Ethan's hardnosed desk-jockey boss.

To move from this adroit guff to Fateless, a film about the Holocaust with a screenplay by the Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz taken from his acknowledged masterpiece, seems, I know, like a piece of moral imbecility, for which I can only apologise.

But such ludicrous juxtapositions are an unavoidable feature of the film critic's job; and if we set aside moral intentions for a moment, the two films illustrate different approaches to the same problem - how to encompass narrative in pictures. In Mission: Impossible III, the narrative is crowded with incident, and the director's job is to match it with images as kinetically charged as possible. By contrast, the narrative of Fateless is deliberately stripped of incident; what the director, Lajos Koltai, has to convey is the slow accumulation of suffering through days and years.

The central figure is Gyurka Köves, who at 14 is rounded up with other Jewish boys in Budapest and sent first to Auschwitz, then to Buchenwald, and, finally, to a smaller, "provincial" camp, Zeitz. Here, he is adopted by an older man, who teaches him the importance of cleanliness and self-esteem as tools for survival. But as the months wear on, his will to live is replaced with a solipsistic awareness of sensation - pain, cold, hunger; it seems to be mere chance, never explained, that he lasts until the camp is liberated by American troops.

What is deeply impressive about the film is its admission of seemingly inadmissible sentiments - the vengeful pleasure that a newly liberated Jew takes in contemplating the ruins of Dresden; Gyurka's discovery that even in the camps it was possible to feel a kind of happiness. But Koltai never quite finds a visual language to match the power of words. The most blatant device is a gradual bleaching away of colour: in Budapest, things have a sepia tint, but as Gyurka moves through the camp system, even that fades; in Zeitz, things have achieved the kind of silvered monochrome you see in the photographs of Sebastiao Salgado, investing human misery with a dignity that verges on kitsch. The arrival of the Americans brings a splash of sunshine, but the colour-scheme never properly recovers.

At odd times, the film is properly distressing - a remarkable sequence shows a camp parade at which the starving inmates, forced to stand all day, begin to sway, the whole phalanx rippling like corn in a field. But, for the most part, the sheened images seem to form a barrier between the audience and the experience. Perhaps the fault lies more with Ennio Morricone's lavish, emotionally bullying music, which cancels out all the reticence and nuance of the script. I don't want to imply that Fateless is a less skilled piece of film-making than, say, Mission:Impossible; rather, that it demon- strates the limitations of skill.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker