Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter settles in for relentless action as Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise talk through Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
The Mission: Impossible film franchise is nearly twenty years old, but it shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. It’s an incredible feat, and while no one person is to credit for a film’s success it’s no exaggeration to say that Tom Cruise continues to be the beating heart of the franchise both onscreen and off. He’s a performer and producer of many talents, and his “ownership” of the M:I franchise puts them on display each time out as evidenced by the last three films in particular.
Cruise’s collaborations with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie have quickly made them one of my favorite filmmaker/star duos currently working, and any project they make together instantly becomes must-see material. Their latest is one of 2015’s best action films ‐ and a hugely entertaining film period ‐ and it’s due to hit home video next week. The movie is highly re-watchable and worth buying for that alone, but it also comes loaded with behind the scenes featurettes exploring the production and numerous stunts as well as an engaging and fun commentary track.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Mission: Impossible ‐ Rogue Nation commentary.
Mission: Impossible ‐ Rogue Nation (2015)
Commentators: Christopher McQuarrie (writer/director), Tom Cruise (actor/producer/plane hanger offer)
1. Cruise loves the Paramount logo. “It brings back many great memories as a film-goer and a filmmaker.”
2. The opening scene was filmed at RAF Wittering in the UK. Interestingly, the location was locked in before they had even seen the base or written the specifics of the scene. The emptiness of the area around the runway presented a challenge at first, but obviously they ended up delivering a spectacular sequence.
3. They had two ghillie suits available so both Cruise and McQuarrie put them on and walked the area to get a feel for the look and opportunities. Simon Pegg thought they were joking when they sent him a pic of a suit he’d be wearing in the opening scene.
4. Hanging Ethan Hunt (Cruise) off the side of the A-400 plane was originally McQuarrie’s idea. “I was joking when I said it,” he explains. “I did not think you’d take me seriously.”
5. Cruise did the “hanging off the plane” stunt eight times.
6. McQuarrie points out that while viewers think the biggest concern with the plane stunt is the possibility of Cruise falling ‐ “Well that was a bit of a concern,” adds Cruise ‐ they were actually worried about debris, birds, jet exhaust, and other possible issues.
7. Most of the movie is shot on film with the exception of night overheads which were done on digital to make better use of the available light and some newspaper close-ups for detail.
8. Hermione Corfield, who plays the record store agent, was cast off of a head shot. Her character is almost immediately killed via a shot to the head. Coincidence? Probably.
9. It was Cruise’s idea to do get his mission briefing via a record player. He wanted to do an “analog version of this movie.” It’s a riff on the premiere episode of the original television show.
10. The audio booth segment in the record store was revisited throughout production with additional scenes shot as the story developed in more detail. McQuarrie says the hologram graphics were a pain to create to his satisfaction, and they point out that one of the photos of Cruise visible while the Syndicate voice is speaking is actually a photo Cruise had taken of himself on the set of Mena (his upcoming Doug Liman film) and sent to McQuarrie during post-production.
11. Sean Harris, who plays the villainous Solomon Lane, was apparently very reluctant to star in a franchise film. “The first thing he said to me when I convinced him to be in the movie,” says McQuarrie, “he said ‘just promise me you’ll kill me so I don’t have to come back and do more.’” The lesson here is never to believe McQuarrie’s promises.
12. McQuarrie gives full credit to Jeremy Renner saying that anytime the actor gets a laugh in the film it’s due in large part to his improvisational skills.
13. Cruise viewed this as a “boy meets girl” kind of movie. Rebecca Ferguson’s intro is the meeting, the opera is the first date, the motorcycle chase is the break-up, and then they reunite. “I thought that was an unusual way of looking at it,” says McQuarrie, “but it was a good model.”
14. They loved Jens Hultén’s (he plays Janik “the Bone Doctor” Vinter) work in the early torture scene and decided to keep him alive and add more scenes for him.
15. McQuarrie admits that the thugs shooting at ‐ and missing ‐ Hunt as he runs down the hallway are “the worst marksmen ever.” He does point out that they’re using short-barrel machine guns though, so maybe cut the poor guys some slack.
16. Hunt’s call to Brandt (Renner) from the London phone box is a word for word match to a similar scene in the first Mission: Impossible.
17. Cruise says that “part of a Mission movie is celebrating the culture and architecture of each country we’re in.” And then blowing it up.
18. It was Cruise’s idea to have Hunt be shot ‐ an idea McQuarrie didn’t think would work because Hunt would be walking around for the rest of the film with a bullet in his gut ‐ but Cruise added “six months later” and boom.
19. Some of Alec Baldwin’s close-ups during his character’s conversation with Brandt were accidentally filmed out of focus which required him to come back for re-shoots alongside a double for Renner. “He was so funny that day,” says McQuarrie, “just torturing the stand-in. Playfully.”
20. Apparently you’re not allowed to film exteriors of the CIA building in Langley, VA anymore, so they had to recycle a shot from Clear and Present Danger and digitally add leaves to the trees.
21. McQuarrie cameos as Pegg’s hand double when Benji Dunn (Pegg) opens the envelope to reveal opera tickets.
22. Zhang Jing-chu (Aftershock, Beast Stalker), who plays the polygraph operator, originally had additional scenes that were ultimately cut because “story is king.” You can’t argue with the results, but this decision still makes for a compelling argument against McQuarrie’s stance regarding not including deleted scenes on the DVD.
23. The opera sequence was an apparent concern for everyone but McQuarrie and Cruise, and that’s even before it grew to over twenty minutes in duration. They had four hours to get the footage they specifically needed inside the opera house.
24. The fight between Hunt and the Flautist Assassin (Wolfgang Stegemann) saw McQuarrie using eleven different camera lenses to get the precise shots he wanted.
25. Ferguson’s final shot during production is the bit at the opera where she prepares to fire the rifle by lifting her leg to steady her elbow on her knew. Cruise and McQuarrie watched rehearsals early on, and when the tech advisor suggested the character would stabilize herself “bone on bone” ‐ elbow on knee ‐ and Ferguson lifted her leg up onto the table for the shot the pair knew immediately what they wanted to see. They had costume designer Joanna Johnson design the dress based on this shot. It was almost trimmed later on, but Cruise argued persuasively that “the shot is iconic!”
26. The opera sequence was originally written to end with Hunt and Faust simply leaving out the back exit, but Cruise was having none of it. “This is Mission: Impossible! You can’t just walk out a back door!”
27. Cruise’s “Mena hair” is visible at 47:50.
28. McQuarrie caught some flack for the intro shot of Casablanca, Morocco because the name appears while only the wide shot of the desert is visible. “Unwittingly, there were people who felt like we were depicting Casablanca as a desert.” He apologizes.
29. They wanted to do the mask gag without the typical digital tomfoolery, so the scene where Benji puts the mask on with Hunt’s help as the camera pans to reveal the finished product in the mirror? It was done without a mirror. Cruise is not actually standing behind Pegg as he’s instead on the duplicate set “inside” the mirror standing behind the other actor. Everything is mirror image from the clothes to the books with backward-printed titles. The only thing they missed was the mole on Cruise’s cheek.
30. Cruise trained for a month on the art and science of free-diving.
31. McQuarrie’s brother, Doug, is a technical advisor on the film. He had previously drowned during his days as an ex-Navy SEAL and offered advice on Hunt’s situation. They apparently call him Twice Drowned Doug.
32. Cruise wanted to try something different for the post-drowning scene where Hunt exits the building to hop in a car and pursue Faust, so McQuarrie set up the cameras and called action. Cruise hadn’t told anyone what precisely he was going to do, and when he launched himself across the hood only to face-plant on the other side the crew audibly gasped before catching on and bursting into laughter.
33. Cruise regrets not having his leather motorcycle gear on set while filming the chase down Rabat’s Udayas Walk steps because he would have loved to ridden the bikes in the scene. He acknowledges that means he would have been chasing himself, and now all I want is a super-cut video of Cruise running, driving, and riding in pursuit of himself.
34. The stunt with the BMW leaping backwards into the parking lot was accomplished by firing a “car cannon” along a rail. It took a few tries to get right, and “after the third time we fired it we started to notice some cracks in some of the buildings, and we were asked to not fire the car cannon anymore.”
35. The motorcycle chase as originally written would have been around eight minutes long, but budget cuts made them pare it down. They were ultimately happy with the decision as it forced them to make the sequence even more dynamic. Cruise also originally wanted to do the chase barefoot and in shorts, but the idea was understandably nixed.
36. Unlike many (most?) directors, McQuarrie does not use temp music while cutting together scenes to see how they play.
37. The bit where Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) is rushing through the crowd to reach Faust only to see her disappear was accomplished practically as opposed to using CG in some way.
38. The multiple tranquilizer dart shots were shot using CG. Basically the darts are already attached to the bodies but are digitally painted out until they “hit” their targets.
39. The foot chase at the end features a bit with Hunt crashing through a window while tussling with a bad guy, and it was a decision made while walking the route prior to shooting. There were people inside at the time who paused to stare as Tom Cruise stood outside their window, and their day got even better when Cruise knocked on the glass, they opened it, and he asked if he could take a look around inside for a minute. At least one of the office workers was thrilled at the thought of having the window smashed.
40. The final scene with Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and Brandt walking was filmed at Pinewood Studios in the very room where Cruise had his first meeting about the first Mission: Impossible.
41. They recorded the commentary in China before the film’s premiere.
42. McQuarrie got the directing assignment on this film mere moments after the idea was first suggested to him by Cruise. They were at a script meeting for Edge of Tomorrow, and Cruise turned to him and said “You should direct the next Mission: Impossible.” He said sure, thinking they would discuss it more thoroughly at a later date, but Cruise exited the room on his cell phone for a few minutes in which time McQuarrie could hear him talking and laughing. He returned, said “Okay Brad [Grey, Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures], great, good talking to you,” hung up the phone, and said “Yeah you’re directing Mission: Impossible.” McQuarrie thanks Cruise for the leap of faith and for taking a huge gamble on him, to which Cruise replies simply “I don’t think it was a gamble.”
43. Other movies referenced during the commentary include It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, North by Northwest, Mena, Edge of Tomorrow, Valkyrie, The Parallax View, Mission: Impossible III, Three Days of the Condor, Mission: Impossible, Jack Reacher, Clear and Present Danger, All the President’s Men, and The Great Escape.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- McQuarrie: “Homage-erama.”
- McQuarrie: “Between Edge of Tomorrow and Valkyrie the number of times I’ve killed you, and I kill you in this movie actually!”
- McQuarrie: “One of the things that’s very important to me about handheld [filming] is that you don’t try to emphasize the use of handheld ‐ and minimize the shakiness of the camera.”
- McQuarrie: “We did not intentionally use the same bone saw from Jack Reacher, but there it is.”
- McQuarrie & Cruise: “We haven’t even officially started shooting, and we’re already re-shooting our pre-shoot.”
- McQuarrie: “The Austrian police were very upset about that explosion.”
This marks the fifth collaboration between Cruise and McQuarrie, and it’s clear throughout the commentary that they have an incredible (and well-earned) respect for each other built on both friendship and their professional relationship. It’s typically bad news for a film to have the script evolving during production, but the duo make it clear that it’s par for the course on their films. They make it work beautifully in part because they’re smart in the way they shoot to allow for later details to shift and change ‐ it’s something I don’t really touch on above because they return to the idea so frequently and hearing them explore the hows and whys adds exponentially to the commentary track’s value. Cruise once again makes a habit of interrupting McQuarrie with stray observations ‐ “And this dress, the color of the dress…” ‐ but his observations are interesting and the director routinely returns to his train of thought so it’s all good.
Like they did on the Jack Reacher commentary, Cruise and McQuarrie deliver a fun, information-filled track that provides an entertaining and fascinating look behind the scenes. I look forward to many more collaborations ‐ and happily McQuarrie is officially back to direct the next Mission: Impossible.