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Did Tom Cruise Really Do the Sleight of Hand in ‘Mission: Impossible’?

By Lindsay Traves | Film | July 17, 2023 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | July 17, 2023 |

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It’s somewhat of a foregone conclusion that Tom Cruise, the man notorious for doing all of his own stunts, probably also “really did” whatever hard thing his feature film required. The man has grasped the side of a moving plane, leaped off of an airborne motorcycle, and has flown all kinds of aircraft, so it stands to reason he probably also really did that sleight of hand trick in Mission: Impossible, right?

The internet seems to generally have accepted that he really did the magic trick. The trick in question, being the sleight of hand bit with the disc between Ethan Hunt and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno). Bluffing when Kreiger threatens the rogue de facto IMF team, Hunt pulls out another disc and shows off some slippery fingers to suggest he switched the discs on the ground and gave Kreiger a decoy. The trick, which will look familiar to anyone who’s binged hours of Penn & Teller: Fool Us, involves him making the disc disappear and reappear, sometimes up his sleeve or in his jacket. It’s easy to imagine Cruise learned such a popular trick. IMDb has it listed in its trivia section for the movie, and other listcicles seem to accept it as fact. But for all of my internet scraping, I could not find a source reliable firsthand source.

While there are magic and pickpocket consultants listed for Rogue Nation and Dead Reckoning Part One, none such exists for De Palma’s first installment. The sleight-of-hand games between Hunt and Grace (Hayley Atwell) are plentiful in the newest movie and feel like a callback to the original 1996 feature. For Dead Reckoning Part One, Ben Hart served as the “magic and pickpocket consultant.” The Mission: Impossible franchise has always had a bit of magic — it’s a series where people wear masks and constantly reveal themselves to be other people or in other locations, so the sleight-of-hand trickery certainly fits. There just doesn’t seem to be any confirmation that Cruise did this particular magic for real.

Trying to solve it, I scoured the internet and found a good base of magicians trying to see what was happening in the scene. Of course, we need to look at the great Penn Jillette. Examining the trick for Vanity Fair, Jilette started by saying “knowing how hard Tom Cruise works, he probably actually practiced that.” Penn doesn’t get too far into it, but he guesses Cruise could have done it for real, maybe with the help of the removal of a few frames. He also mentions that he could have used a “topit” in his jacket to stash away the disc and make it appear to have vanished, but “why bother? He’s Tom Cruise.”

Ben Seidman, a master of sleight of hand (and magic consultant on Mindfreak and some Jackass properties), also broke down the trick for Vanity Fair. In his opinion, “it’s possible CG was used, it looked that great.” Also buying into the idea that Cruise learns everything for his roles, Ben posited that this trick was a blend of sleight of hand and a gaffes, which is a “trick apparatus that contributes to the effect.” While the character, Hunt, likely wouldn’t have had a gaffes, it’s possible Cruise would have had one to perform the trick for the movie. Ben’s breakdown of the trick is a lot of fun and he also describes the other magic techniques Hunt uses in the scene.

Then there’s, Jason Bishop, a magician and illusionists. He speculates that this magic is absolutely possible, though not likely on the fly. He explains how the long shot where the disc disappears is proof at least that they didn’t use any editing tricks to cover up the faux magic. Then he supposes that Tom Cruise who will “do anything for his craft” probably learned to do the trick. Bishop checked the angles and insists that some of the beats, like bringing the disc back from Claire’s (Emmanuelle Beart) waistband, was probably a bit of movie magic.

So, did Cruise really perform the magic trick Hunt does to protect the NOC list and keep Krieger off of him? It’s possible but we can’t know for sure (until someone finally lets me interview and ask him). But for now, the mythology of Cruise keeps the bit alive, and the analyses from magicians will keep us all guessing.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, ‘Dead Reckoning’ wouldn’t exist.