Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz
Starring: Connor Bazelak, Larry Rountree III, Nick Bolton, Tauskie Dove, Jalen Knox, Joshuah Bledsoe, Trajan Jeffcoat
Synopsis: Entering a new phase of his career, Eli Drinkwitz leads a star cast to new heights in his best feature at Mizzou Studios.
There’s been a lot of hope for Eli Drinkwitz amongst loyalists of Missouri features. But it would be unfair to cast all doubts aside.
After all, what had Drinkwitz really done to be certain that he has a future as a star director? Sure, he was a great crew member under directors past. And in his lone stint directing indies up in the Appalachian mountains, he seemed pretty exciting. But a call up to the big stage, under the bright lights of the SEC, raised a lot of questions about those potential results becoming tangible.
Well, we’re not very far into his career at Mizzou Studios, and it would appear Eli Drinkwitz is casting aside a lot of doubts. In just his third feature in his new position, Drinkwitz has directed a complex and thrilling effort, one that sees him guide his cast and crew to overcome Mission: Impossible.
With the trades breaking late headlines that he’d be short-handed for his third feature, it seemed impossible things would work out for the best. Even with the stars on hand, there wasn’t a lot of assurance. After all, Drinkwitz’s top-line guy only has a few bit parts (and one leading role) under his belt, with not a lot of success at the box office to show. And while there are certainly some workable pieces in his rotating cast —Nick Bolton has always been particularly strong in that hybrid supporting and leading role — Drinkwitz seemed to be cobbling together a group of players for a valiant effort at failure. But sometimes, a director can surprise you when things look bleak, especially if those working under him believe in the vision. And this time, the vision is pure.
In this latest feature from the director of Contagion and Disturbia, our protagonists climb a seemingly nonviable hill. Faced with the elimination of some key team members, Connor Bazelak (very Tom Cruise-adjacent in his swagger and charisma) must lead a new cast of heroes to face a dangerous foe, one that seemingly runs the world around them. This leads Bazelak and his crew through a number of obstacles — including fumbles, blown coverages and the like — all as the team unveils new gadgets and tools to be used against the enemy. You may not have heard of Niko Hea before Mission: Impossible, but you won’t forget him receiving a shovel pass or dealing a decisive blow to the enemy anytime soon.
There is one potential objection that one could find with Mission: Impossible, and that’s the work of assistant director and defensographer Ryan Walters. It’s no secret that he’s a holdover from the previous staff of unit directors, and there’s probably some temptation to cast some of the blame for past uneven results on him (never mind that there were times when he was the only one holding together Barry Odom’s work). And it’s probably fair to criticize some of the choices he makes, especially moments when the antagonist Tigers appear to be dealing haymakers to the Tigers. It’s here where the whole things begins to feel a tad uneven, no doubt.
But where imperfection exists, there is also room for perfection within. Almost a sort of yin-yang situation, but not quite. In essence, Ryan Walters’ work calls to attention the deficiencies he’s working with — less raw talent than other major studios, insufficient time to get everyone on the same page, etc. But by the end of the film, he’s proven that he can work around those deficiencies to craft a product that is good enough when it needs to be. Does he mean to present these flaws on the surface? Likely not, but their presence almost buoys the excellent work he does in the feature’s third act.
Through it all, Drinkwitz leads his cast and crew with a confident, decisive hand. Every move he makes, even when it feels uncouth or reckless, pays off in the end. It’s the best kind of direction, work that you’d compare to a rickety wooden roller coaster — dangerous, but in a manufactured sort of way. The danger is baked into the experience, and you know by the end that you’re in safe hands. You could experience the thrill, and later, the confidence.
It’s the best of both worlds— an exceedingly tricky bit of work that only the most skilled and practiced hands can pull of. It’s no secret that Drinkwitz’s hands aren’t all that practiced in the director’s chair... so could he really be that skilled? Only time will tell. But there’s a glimmer in Drinkwitz’s third feature that points toward future glory. His vision seems to cast for bigger and better things, especially when he has the talent behind him to make it happen.
Hopefully that time is sooner rather than later, so that devoted fans can get more features like Mission: Impossible. But if Eli Drinkwitz is as good as his latest suggests? They might not even need to wait that long.