God I loved this movie the first time I saw it - really, it was one that I declared to myself one of the "best I've ever seen" - and I kinda still want to just talk about it like that version of me would. Summer '96 is still the best ever movie summer for me, though admittedly perhaps because it was the first I felt was really for me. I went to the cinema more often than I ever had for whatever reason that year. I even did that thing of buying a ticket for one movie and then staying in the cinema for one or even two more movies, sneaking from screen to screen (on this occasion I think I slipped into the less enduring Down Periscope with Kelsey Grammer afterwards lol…). But come on… that summer we had this, The Rock, Independence Day, Twister… it was like the original summer for me.
They got Robert freakin' Towne to write the original screenplay for this movie (okay, and a bunch of others after…) and Brian De freakin' Palma to direct, immediately making it the classiest of all those blockbusters. But they didn't stop there - this has maybe the classiest cast of any movie that came out that year - Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa freakin' Redgrave (who is almost as good for me here as she was in Girl Interrupted)…
De Palma was known almost immediately in the 1970s as the natural heir to Hitchcock when it came to suspense, but I feel like here he really finally made his "perfect" Hitchcock movie like North by Northwest. Like that movie, the plot is really unimportant (I got bored as soon as it came out of people saying it's "confusing" so imagine how I feel when people still say that 20 years later…) - it is simply set piece after set piece after set piece, the most remembered of which is literally just Tom Cruise hanging on a rope in a white room. It plays like 3 or 4 episodes of the show joined together (the theme music even breaks the movie up midway like we're starting a new story), but I find none of this bad.
Though some of the technology stuff is almost laughably dated, it's still so much fun and really has more pure cinema stuff in it than any of the sequels. The train/helicopter scene at the end is still as astonishing as it is ridiculous and gives me as much of a rush on the small screen (well, okay, in HD on a TV 4 times bigger than my '96 set…) as it did the first time on the big one - man when that theme kicks in for the last time! And David Schneider's appearance in that scene is a bizarre touch of icing on that cake that defines this movie almost as much as anything else.