The Politics of M:I-2: Screenwriter Robert Towne Speaks!

Robert Towne, who wrote the screenplay for Mission: Impossible 2 (and also wrote or had a hand in writing Chinatown, The Godfather, Shampoo, and The Last Detail), has weighed in on the urgent question posed by Chatterbox in one earlier item and answered by several Chatterbox readers in another. That question was: What political meaning dwelt in Towne’s decision to name the bad-guy biotech industrialist in M:I-2 “John McCloy?” Chatterbox found M:I-2’s political message especially hard to discern because, while this bad guy (played by Brendan Gleeson) was named after a famous former U.S. high commissioner to occupied Germany, World Bank president, and chairman of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Ford Foundation, the good guy played by Tom Cruise worked for an unaccountable international spy agency whose initials, “IMF,” were the same as those of the International Monetary Fund. Was Towne using the McCloy name to say internationalism is bad, or was he using the IMF initials to say internationalism is good?

Here is what Towne had to say in a dictated message conveyed to this column:

Attaching any special significance to the naming of Brendan Gleeson’s character shows considerably more imagination than the writer actually had.

This statement might at first seem to be an unequivocal denial–indeed, it probably is meant to be. Still, it isn’t totally unequivocal. Note that Towne does not say: “Neither I nor anyone else involved in making M:I-2 intended to link the ‘John McCloy’ character to the famous postwar establishment figure of that name.” Which wouldn’t, come to think of it, have really done the trick either, since Towne’s presumed knowledge of who McCloy–now deceased–was might still have influenced his decision to name the Gleeson character, intentionally or no. (A writer’s unconscious is a powerful tool.) On reflection, the only truly Shermanesque denial coming from Towne would be: “Until I read your column, I had never heard of the non-fictional John McCloy, and neither had Tom Cruise, who produced the movie, nor John Woo, who directed it.”

Conceivably, what Towne is saying is: “It was clever of me to insert abstruse political meaning into M:I-2, but even cleverer of you to sniff it out. Criticism is so much more important than any literary or nonliterary creative work. Wouldn’t you agree?” Probably, though, that is not what Towne meant to say. Probably he meant to say either that he had never heard of John McCloy, or that he had heard of him but that his use of McCloy’s name carries no special meaning. Which, frankly, is an unsatisfactory answer. If Towne keeps this up, Chatterbox can’t promise he’ll go see M:I-3.