Into the Vault Scene

Relevant Film:

Although Mission: Impossible is a spy movie, 11 and a half minutes of it are a heist.  This clip shows Ethan Hunt entering the vault to copy the NOC list.  It is only 2 minutes of the 11 and a half minutes of this scene in the film.

The NOC List is a file on a computer at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia in the US.   The room or vault where the computer lives is very heavily protected (sound, touch, temperature sensors) which requires a gutsy heist in order to get the file.   They decide that the only way to get to the computer with the file is to enter the vault from above, have Ethan be lowered into the vault without him touching anything, except the keyboard. Tom Cruise does this scene himself and is my favorite scene in the movie. It even has the “oops, I almost fell” part where Kreiger lets the rope slip. Ethan almost hits the ground. I can’t think of a movie that has a high-tension scene like this one that doesn’t have the “we almost blew it” part added to it.

This scene is obviously modeled after the work of Jules Dassin. Dassin was the director of the 1964 heist film, Topkapi.   He received two Academy Award nominations for this film. He also directed the 1955 heist film Rififi (He won Best Director at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for this film).  The heist scenes in these two films have key ideas which are used in the heist in Mission: Impossible.   All 3 films have lengthy planning discussions around how to deal with the alarm and how sensitive the room is to sound, and the floor is to touch in the case of Topkapi and Mission: Impossible. All 3 of the heists have the robbers coming into the area from the ceiling.

One of the most noticeable ideas used in all 3 films is the lack of a score and almost total silence during the 3 heists.

In Rififi, the heist takes up almost 30 minutes of film time and not a word is spoken, nor is a score played.  There are whatever natural noises appear in terms of footsteps and the like.   However, this scene is extremely quiet. This really added to the tension of the scene. It also caused some buzz when the film was released as it was a very novel way to put a scene like that together.   Who has silence for almost 30 minutes in a non-silent movie? And it works…wonderfully.

Topkapi’s heist, on the other hand, is mostly silent, but there is some brief dialogue between the robbers. Again, there is no score. In the Mission: Impossible heist, there is more background noise in the scenes interspersed with William Donloe’s “stomach problems”. However, in the vault itself, there is very little dialogue and noise. The other key elements from Topkapi’s heist have to do with how they enter the robbery area.   In Topkapi, the robber (Giulio played by Gilles Ségal) is lowered headfirst from the ceiling using ropes.  In Mission: Impossible, Ethan is lowered in headfirst via cable. In both Topkapi and Mission: Impossible the robber then spins and goes from head-first to a horizontal suspension in the air.   Both films also have the rope slip and the robber just misses hitting the floor, which would sound the alarms. Finally, In Topkapi, Giulio has a very large light attached to his head.   In Mission: Impossible 1, Ethan has a much smaller light attached to his head. After seeing the light in Mission: Impossible 1 it is almost comical to see the huge light in Topkapi.   It just goes to show how technology changes in a 25-year timespan.