Five Shots: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I’ve decided to start a habit (and I challenged my brother to do the same thing, so remind him). Whenever I watch a movie, excepting in the theater, I will pick five shots from the film to post here. The shots may be particularly striking, or they may perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the movie, or they may just be examples of good blocking or good staging. The goal of the exercise is simply to practice paying attention, which I do little enough of.

Yesterday, I watched most of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, directed by Brad Bird. Bird comes from an animation background, and it shows in how he composed his sequences. Unfortunately, most of the really gripping stuff comes from cutting or camera movement, which are both hard to capture in a screenshot.


This whole list could be composed of nothing but shots of Tom Cruise running. Instead, I picked the first shot Bird gives us of Agent Hunt: the back of his head as he lounges on a prison bunk. The rock-throwing is a nice nod to Captain Hilts, the Cooler King.


Shot number two is just one of many examples of Bird letting the camera do the work for him. The IMF secretary’s car is rammed, shot at, and rolled into a canal, and we experience it all from inside the car. In controlling the audience’s perspective, Bird is giving us a show rather than simply showing us what happened.


The Burj Khalifa sequence and subsequent sandstorm chase scene is a half-hour action set piece in the middle of the film, full of the sort of cinematography that marketing and distribution teams love. I picked one shot from early on in the sequence. It’s the sort of thing you can imagine Philip Bloom composing, except for the movie star in the middle of the frame.


In this shot, Cruise has just lost the man he was chasing in the sandstorm and he pulls out his tracker to find him. The shot doesn’t last very long (few do in this film), but it communicates how overwhelming the storm is by blurring out the character and squeezing him from both sides of the frame. Also, the sound design in this scene is pretty amazing, even on a laptop.


The final action sequence is a little bit of a letdown after Dubai, but this shot stuck out to me. Car mirror shots are not especially unique, except when the villain is dropping down on you from above while you’re busy trying to snuff out a nuclear briefcase. Don’t ask how the mirror got to be at that angle.