After 17 years away from the Mission: Impossible franchise, Henry Czerny has once again accepted the mission. The veteran Canadian actor returns to his role as Eugene Kittridge, director of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) in the blockbuster franchise. This summer’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One gives the actor an expanded role in the high stakes spy game.
“It feels fantastic,” Czerny tells That Shelf on his return to Mission: Impossible. “It’s a great film. It’s the best in the franchise. Not to diminish any of the others, but it is certainly the best. Anybody who is smart enough to go see it on the big screen will corroborate that.”
Dead Reckoning: Part One sees Kittridge back atop the IMF ranks and butting heads with covert agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). There’s lots of bad blood between the characters after things went down in the 1996 Mission: Impossible. The first installment saw the director and the agent suspect one another of leaking agents’ identities to terrorists. One feels the tension between Kittridge and Hunt in Dead Reckoning from their first taut, action-packed encounter.
Where Dead Reckoning mostly picks up where Fallout left off—returning characters include the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), assassin Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), and sidekicks Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg)—audiences can tell by the darker and seemingly hardened Kittridge that much has passed since he and Hunt played cat and mouse in the 1996 film.
Czerny, who showed off his range in Canadian films like The Righteous, The Other Half, and Fido and series like The Tudors, Sharp Objects, and Quantico between bouts as Kittridge, says that he and Cruise didn’t work together to create a backstory for what happened in the intervening years. Instead, Czerny notes that they had different contexts with which to approach the tension. This let him create his own history for Kittridge, which adds to the growing friction between the characters. “Tom’s backstory actually is very clear. It was the last six installments of the franchise,” notes Czerny.
“But my backstory was that Kittridge had gone back [to the IMF] because he was schooled by Ethan early on,” Czerny continues. “He had circled back, if you will, through the different agencies in the intelligence community in Washington—the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, et cetera—so that he would have a better grasp of how things work because he was schooled by this young one.”
Czerny says that approaching the character from this perspective afforded Kittridge a dimension as someone who won’t be fooled again. “What he’s learned—as any good documentarian, I think, learns—is that the film you think you’re shooting is where you start, and the film you end up shooting can be something quite different. Kittridge walks away from all of that homework, if you will. He’s more grave, more aware of how the world works, and not necessarily thrilled with how the world is working.”
The Biggest Mission: Impossible Yet
Besides the tension, Dead Reckoning increases the stakes with bigger set pieces, greater action, and bolder stunts. Where Kittridge largely keeps his suit clean in the first Mission: Impossible, the franchise’s seventh installment tosses the character around amid the film’s non-stop action. Czerny, however, says he was perfectly fine letting a stunt double step in while Cruise did his own headline-making stunts.
“No, thank you, Tom,” Czerny laughs when asked if he felt the pressure to perform his own stunts. “He does work very hard and he’s brilliant at them. He works at them every day with great people. He’s one of the few people, as the stunt people will tell you, who is capable of doing what he does. I’m very grateful he does that and doesn’t ask me to.”
Dead Reckoning tries to outdo Fallout’s HALO jump with a doozy. This time, Cruise rides a motorcycle off a mountain, 1200 metres above sea level, before falling another 4000 feet to intercept an oncoming train. Czerny, meanwhile, hangs on in a thrilling train ride that forms the Dead Reckoning’s climax with a nod to the original film.
M:I Meets A.I.
But Czerny’s point about Cruise’s death-defying acts underscores a timely point in Dead Reckoning’s complicated plot. This time, Kittridge and Hunt find themselves in pursuit of a deadly weapon known as “The Entity.” It’s an all-seeing eye, of sorts—a weaponized form of artificial intelligence that anticipates agents’ behaviour with a sophisticated algorithm. It’s HAL for 2023. The story grounds Dead Reckoning in prescient concerns while providing the same big screen escapism that the other entries deliver. The film sees Hunt and his fellow agents in a battle against a program that could make them obsolete. It’s a fitting set-up at a time when Hollywood has its own reckoning with the role of A.I. and its implications for creatives, especially writers and actors.
Czerny, meanwhile, remains optimistic. “We’ll see – that’s up in the air,” says Czerny when asked about the state of the film industry with AI. “I think they’re ahead of the curve with the A.I. idea [in this film] and lo and behold, it’s coming up. But, A.I. is what it is. Things are what they are. What we do with them will be the interesting thing.” Appropriately, the cliffhanger of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning presents a similar question as it leaves audiences waiting for part two.