There's a traitor in the heart of America's most secret spy network, the Impossible Mission Force. He or she is trying to steal IMF's critical agent list which would give America's enemies the names of every covert operative in the world. When a mission goes badly wrong, agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is suspected of being the turncoat and becomes a hunted man. With all the might of IMF now turned against him, Hunt must flush out the real traitor - even if that means stealing the secret list himself.
Did you follow that? The sole criticism levelled against "Mission: Impossible" on its cinema release was that the plot was difficult, even incomprehensible and it's a surprising, unfair and rather wounding criticism. It undoubtedly put many people off this very exciting thriller, but - much worse - this criticism also directly led to the extreme over-simplicity of "Mission: Impossible 2".
The plot isn't perfect and it has holes in it (Hunt could just forge that list, he needn't really steal it) but most things happen for a reason, better than it just being time for the next action sequence. It means that you appreciate the mounting pressures on Hunt and that's what makes the famous scene of him hanging from a roof in CIA headquarters so extraordinarily tense.
Four years on, and with a John Woo-directed sequel to compare it to, "Mission: Impossible" feels a little dated but it is a superior story and a genuinely more effective thriller.
"Mission: Impossible" is on BBC1 at 8.05pm, Thursday 1st February 2001.
Read a review of the "Mission: Impossible" DVD.