It’s the old Fight Club opening. Superagent
Sydney Bristow Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is, as you’ve probably seen in the trailer, at the mercy of Truman Capote Owen Davian (PSH, fitting into the villain role like an old glove). Unless Hunt gives up the location of a MacGuffin bioweapon known as ‘The Rabbit’s Foot’, his wife is toast.
It’s a great scene — and because there is going to be a lot of tea-leaf-reading when it comes to this movie, I’m going to supertext a lot of (probably unintentional) subtext. First off, the scene is about whether extreme torture will yield useful intelligence — an ongoing political debate in this country. Later in the film (but earlier in the plot, since we flash back after scene one), the shoe will be on the other foot and Hunt will be torturing Davian in a manner that mirrors the CIA ‘waterboarding’ practice that has scandalized the civilized world. Of course, writer-director J.J. Abrams (TV’s Alias, Lost) is not really interested in exploring the morality of torture. He’s only interested in the torture scene as a dramatic device. I’m not giving anything away when I say that part of the villain’s plot involves starting a war in the Middle East on false pretenses. But that’s all distraction from what America truly cares about: gay marriage. Let me explain.
It’s just wild speculation on my part, of course, but I think the real subtext of Mission: Impossible III is how hard it is to lead a double life, as a married secret agent or as a married gay man. Let’s go back to that first scene. In the palpable hatred between Cruise and Hoffman some will undoubtedly see battling crypto-queens, trying to out-macho each other. Let me say again that this is all idle speculation. I don’t normally care to play the “Who’s In the Closet?” game, but this movie makes it damn difficult not to.
Hoffman has played gay parts a number of times, and I was pretty sure he was gay. No biggie. But then I heard he has a long-time girlfriend and a kid. Okay, I thought, he’s a really fine actor. Some friends in New York’s gay community assured me he really was gay. So maybe his bisexuality is an open secret or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on the part of New York’s gay community. The rumors about Cruise being gay, which I’ve heard practically every day since I moved to L.A., almost go without saying. His child-like enthusiasm for Katie Holmes and their swift production of a child has, because this earthquake city doesn’t trust the surface of things, only accelerated the rumors. Mission: Impossible III will do nothing to quell them.
Hunt is the All-American can-do guy, the quarterback who likes to go for the touchdown himself. There’s nothing he can’t do. Women love his empathetic ways and men find him dull in his gleaming perfection. His one weakness is that he likes puppies. Just kidding, it’s worse. He’s made the classic secret agent mistake of being in love with an innocent, boyish nurse (Michelle Monaghan). But their life happily-ever-after is so important that he drops everything to go on a mission with his his black beefcake buddy Luther (Ving Rhames).
Luther is keen to know whether Hunt had an affair with a sexy young agent played by Keri Russell. “No,” Ethan assures him, “I love her like a sister.”
Speaking of sisters… The most telling moment comes when Hunt returns to a building from which he has just escaped, lured by the Sister Sledge gay anthem “We Are Family”, the song that got SpongeBob in hot water with James Dobson. Perhaps I don’t give Cruise and Abrams enough credit by supposing this song choice was subconscious. Maybe they are deliberately tweaking the crypto-homos who seem to care so much about Cruise’s orientation. For my part, I do believe the Katie Holmes romance is a sham — but only because I believe that Tom Cruise is narcissistically asexual: he’s only capable of loving himself.
Whether he’s subliminally exposing the plight of individuals society has forced to lead dual lives or not, JJ Abrams is explicitly into grrl power, and he should get credit for letting Michelle Monaghan’s innocent nurse have her moment. (‘Innocent nurse’ is such a contradiction — the nurses I know have seen everything.) The women gay men marry should get some credit, this movie seems to say, for being less oblivious than we suppose.
Mission Impossible 3 does everything a big blockbuster franchise movie ought to do, and the special effects are not only visually seamless, but narratively seamless, which is the highest compliment that VFX can be paid. (Seriously great work here from a technical standpoint. The movie was shot with a deliberately shaky handheld aesthetic which meant a lot of poor schmoes spent months creating match-moves, a process that is both difficult and mind-numbing.) The set-pieces themselves are kinetic but unimaginative, except for a helicopter chase through a field of wind turbines — which is both. Nonetheless, the movie keeps its theme music’s promise to keep pulses racing. The plot is highly-entertaining fluff, so perhaps I can be forgiven for my equally fluffy subtext speculations.
A final word on
‘The Rimbaldi Device’ ‘The Rabbit’s Foot’. It’s a truism in drama that the audience doesn’t really care what the MacGuffin is, a notion that was famously exploited in the movie Ronin. Here Abrams and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci really rub our face in it, in a way that makes the end of the movie feel like joke at the audience’s expense. While the plot is choo-choo while it’s chugging, I wouldn’t be surprised if many critic-types look back on it as a trainwreck for just this reason. Abrams’ experience with Lost has emboldened his notion that audiences like to be teased with indefinite suspense. So are Phil and Tom really gay? We may never know.
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