- Review by Kaya Savas - 7/26/18
The Mission: Impossible franchise has endured time, tracing back to the original television series that premiered in 1966. The original series ran till 1973 and then was resurrected in 1988 for a two-season run. Six years after the end of the TV series revival, Mission: Impossible was adapted into a film and here we are in 2018 with our 6th Mission: Impossible feature.
The evolution of the films have been quite fascinating, because even to this day are a great creative playground for directors to exercise their unique visions. Surprisingly, Christopher McQuarrie is the first director to direct two different Mission: Impossible films, and each of his are very different stylistically. Since music is such a big part of Mission: Impossible, it’s also been amazing to see how so many talented composers contributed their stamps to the iconic franchise, as well as how they approached using those iconic notes composed by Lalo Schifrin. Danny Elfman’s score for Brian De Palma’s film was definitely more in the tinkering spy world of espionage. Hans Zimmer kicked things into high gear with John Woo’s supremely stylized action extravaganza. Michael Giacchino scored two adventures with two of his collaborating directors in J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. Giacchino’s scores brilliantly brought modern orchestral action to Mission: Impossible as well as a more organic emotional undercurrent. Joe Kraemer took over on Rogue Nation and delivered a brilliantly big orchestral score that gave Mission: Impossible this fantastic high-class shimmer. For Fallout, director Christopher McQuarrie changed gears. He opted for the highly-talented Lorne Balfe to bring the series that high-impact modern action sound that was a perfect match for this outing. Lorne ended up delivering one of the best scores of his career, and a score that elevates this film to the most thrilling and intense Mission: Impossible of the series.
To address how this score works, we need to examine the look and feel of Fallout. This film feels entirely different than Rogue Nation. Especially when we see another key personnel change in director of photography. Robert Elswit, gave a high-gloss feel to Rogue Nation, making it feel lush, polished and elegant. McQuarrie worked with Rob Hardy on Fallout, Hardy brought a much grittier look and feel. In Rogue Nation, light sources had a glow to them, everything was basked in warmth. This film utilizes contrast way more, with hard shadows and high grain. Light refracts, causing either hazy lens flares or deep pools of darkness. The film still retains its globetrotting super spy feel, but something about how the film was shot makes it feel a bit more up close and personal and a bit grittier. Then of course that leads to the brilliant score from Lorne Balfe, because you need the right sound to marry to the image.
Ethan Hunt is paired with August Walker (played by Henry Caville), and they are referred to as the scalpel and the hammer respectively in the film. That is probably the best way to describe how the score functions as well. The way Lorne approached it was to make the score the core part of the picture. Every edit, the blocking and the camera movements seem to be informed by the music. We have scalpel like precision in some cases, especially when Lorne underlines the tragic lives of these secret agents who can never enjoy a normal human life. The film addresses this melancholic and tragic side of existing only to be cheating death to save the world. This can be heard in tracks like “Should You Choose To Accept” and “We Are Never Free”. It’s probably the first time this action set piece film franchise has added a tiny dose of existentialism, and it’s perfect for giving the film an emotional character weight.
In other areas, of course Lorne puts the scalpel down and brings the hammer. However, even in the most intense action scenes, the score is approached with calculated precision. “Escape From Paris” is a highlight of the film, and it showcases an incredibly crafted action arc. It has momentum, it has gravitas, but also has a fun energy surging through it. Throughout the score, Lorne doesn’t just rely on big brass and strings, but percussion. Percussion is a huge element of the score, and it’s used so well that it would make John Powell proud. Besides the appropriate use of bongos in some areas, we do get some more hard-hitting percussion used throughout. During an intense foot chase scene, Balfe relies pretty much solely on percussion before bringing in the weight of the orchestra. But something so simple as the rapid percussive hits of a drum section for a foot chase elevates the kinetic energy. Since most of the movie is indeed a chase, that percussion is deeply rooted throughout.
We also have that super iconic Schifrin theme. So how did Lorne handle that? Well he brilliantly utilized the main theme and "The Plot" theme to build the thematic arcs of this film. By breaking those iconic themes apart, changing the instrumentation and tempo, we have this brooding and intimidating central motif. Another wonderful motif is this dissonant piano that trickles in here and there, and of course it’s signifying that something isn’t right. It’s this hint that you as the audience should be curious, that something isn’t what it seems. If you track the trickling piano you’ll be following a breadcrumb trail that Lorne has laid down. Lorne also utilizes Schifrin’s “The Plot” to its full potential, peppering it in to add a militaristic punch and even flesh out the antagonist. The general body of the score though is full of Lorne’s signature melodic builds and structures, never at any moment is the music not actively working to hook you and keep the narrative moving. The score can bring action intensity, it can bring existential reflection, it can tweak the tone to be a bit more fun and less serious at times, but most of all it’s just an amazing thrill ride.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout successfully brings Ethan Hunt a new identity. We’ve seen him as a tinkering spy, a 90’s action hero relic who wears sunglasses on a motorcycle, a Bond-like suave super spy, and now more of a brute force secret ops agent with everything on the line. Lorne Balfe’s score brings the modern edge of blending the huge rush of a massive orchestra with electronic grit and gravitas. Fallout is one of the best action scores in recent memory, and one of the best we’ve seen from Balfe. Not only is it riveting action, but for the emotional undercurrent we strip out the glossy romanticism for a more existential look at the lives of Ethan Hunt and company. Balfe’s score doesn’t take away anything from the amazing past entries in the franchise, but adds another chapter that brings this beloved action franchise into a new territory. The fact that Mission: Impossible has turned into this franchise that celebrates practical action filmmaking where different directors and composers have gotten to leave their personal stamp, is something wonderful. Balfe brings his A-game and makes Mission: Impossible - Fallout a tour de force of action scoring.