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What sets this third Mission Impossible film apart from its predecessors is the irony of going back to the basics of the original concept as developed for television, and the considerable expansion of the central character as a three dimensional human being – facing a worthy villain. Writer/director J.J Abrams explains why and how this emotional element was so important to his team.

In writing “M:i:III,” J.J. Abrams and his co-writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, went back to the drawing board with the character of Ethan Hunt. “From the very beginning, Tom, Alex, Bob, and I wanted to do a movie about a character,” he says. “Not that there isn’t a lot of action – that goes without saying – but my favourite kind of spy movie is one where the commitment to the world, as extreme as it is, and as hyper-real as it is, is still emotionally true. You have these characters going through some of the most heartbreaking, most terrifying, most horrifying, most thrilling, most fun moments, and you believe all of them within the context of the genre. That’s what we wanted to bring to M:i:III.”

In this third adventure, Special Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is lured back to the front line by Agency Director Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) and his right hand man Musgrave (Billy Crudup) when his former trainee agent Linsey Ferris (Keri Russell) is captured by the vicious Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). With his team comprising computer expert Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), Irish transportation expert Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and the versatile and glamorous Zhen (Maggie Q), Hunt tracks down Davian in a daring plot to grab him, to stop his world-destructive plans. But things go awry and the stakes escalate as Declan takes Hunt’s wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) hostage. Hunt now has the impossible mission to not only save the woman he loves, but the world as well.

"how to balance home and work"

“I think a big challenge many people face in their daily lives is how to balance home and work,” says Cruise. “How do you work at a job you love while also spending time with your spouse and kids? What we’ve done is to raise that to the extreme: not only does Ethan have to balance these two worlds, but because he’s a spy, his home world is directly affected by his work. We’ve started with a real issue and taken it to an incredibly entertaining and extreme level.”

In exploring that, the filmmakers created a new life for Ethan Hunt. When the film begins, Hunt has retired from active duty – he now trains new IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents. With this change, he opens himself up to other new possibilities in his life, including marriage.

“In this movie, you get to see Ethan in some dramatic and emotional moments,” says Michelle Monaghan, who plays Julia, the love of Ethan’s life. “He’s truly in love and he wants it to last. Julia is truly in love with him, but she doesn’t know exactly what he does; over the course of the film, she starts to see him become really distressed and she starts to wonder if there’s something else that he’s hiding. He asks her to trust him – and she does.”

Of course, Ethan cannot tell his new bride the whole truth. “She thinks he studies traffic for a living,” she says.

Monaghan takes on the role of leading lady, her largest role to date, after memorable supporting roles in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and the television program “Boston Public.” She says that her character helps the audience to see Ethan Hunt – the man they’ve known only as a spy – in a different light. “You get to see his vulnerable side,” she says. “You see all the action and intrigue you expect, but you’re invested in the character in a completely different way than in the past.”

Abrams says that his high-stakes story is the perfect match for Cruise’s on- and off-screen intensity. “Before we started shooting, Cameron Crowe mentioned to me that Tom was so focused, professional, and hard working, he was going to spoil me for the rest of my life,” says Abrams. “Everything he said is absolutely true.”

Abrams notes that the writing team took special care to create a villain worthy of Ethan Hunt – one that could match up to the hero. “This is the first time that Hunt has come up against an adversary that is as scary, clever, mysterious as the character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman,” says Abrams.

Hoffman, who recently won an Academy Award for his performance in Capote, takes on the role of Owen Davian, Ethan Hunt’s most ruthless opponent yet. An international information and weapons trader without remorse or conscience; Hoffman describes it this way: “In this type of transaction, there’s a good cop and a bad cop. Davian’s the bad cop – he takes care of the dirty work.”

For Hoffman, Davian is a role he can sink his teeth into. “He’s not just a villain – he’s a psychopath,” says Hoffman. “He creates incredible empathy for Ethan; the darker, more evil, more vicious this man is toward the hero, the more you want the hero to take this man down.”

M:i:IIIpresented new challenges to Hoffman. “I’ve never done an action film before,” he says, “and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve known J.J. casually for many years, and I worked with Tom before, on Magnolia. When I read the script, I was impressed with the three ingredients – Tom, J.J., and the screenplay – combined. I thought that the time was right to do this kind of project, with these people and with this script.”

Davian plays a pivotal role in the central tension of M:i:III. “Ethan and Julia are two people who have a lot of fear as they get married,” says Hoffman. “It comes from the terror about what could happen. Am I going to lose this person? Am I going to lose myself if we unite? On an extreme level, they’re going through all the same things that keep people in everyday life from getting married. My character embodies that: the nightmare aspect that keeps people from making that kind of commitment.”

Published May 4, 2006


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