out of Five
Running time: 137
Well-acted and impressively directed, The Missing is an intense, dark, violent Western with a streak of cruelty that belies its ‘15’ certificate.
It’s impossible to see The Missing without thinking of The Searchers, John Ford’s classic Western on a similar theme, as well as the countless movies that film inspired (Taxi Driver, Hardcore, etc). In that light, it would be all too easy to write off The Missing as a sort of politically correct version of The Searchers but it remains an engaging, frequently dark, moving Western with a streak of violence and cruelty one doesn’t readily associate with Ron Howard movies.
The film is set in the lawless wilderness of the American Southwest in 1885. Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a frontier woman and single mother, who provides services as a healer and works her land, along with her hired man and sometime lover Brake Baldwin (Aaron Eckhart) and her two daughters from different fathers, teenaged Lily (Evan Rachel Wood, from Thirteen) and her younger sister Dot (Jenna Boyd).
As the movie begins, Maggie’s estranged father Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) drifts back into her life after having abandoned her 20 years previously in order to live among the Apaches. Initially she rejects him, but after Lily is kidnapped by a gang of vicious slave-trading Indians, she enlists Jones’ help to save her daughter before it’s too late.
Tommy Lee Jones is extremely good as Jones, underplaying it to considerable effect and using the deep sadness in his eyes to fill in the gaps for his character. Blanchett is also excellent and there’s strong support from both Wood and Boyd. In addition, Eric Schweig as the Indian leader Pesh-Chidin makes a genuinely frightening villain – the embodiment of pure evil, who has mystical powers to match – and there’s good work from weasel-faced character actor Max Perlich, who, frankly, isn’t in enough films.
Unsurprisingly, given the surrounding landscapes, the photography is
gorgeous, courtesy of Salvatore Totino. It’s also a fairly long film, but Howard’s direction ensures that it never drags, carefully balancing action sequences with the understated development of the relationship between the two leads – it’s to Howard’s credit that we never discover the full story behind why Jones left in the first place.
The film isn’t entirely without flaws, however - for one thing it seems
inconceivable that none of the Evil Indians would atttempt to ‘sample’ their newly acquired ‘merchandise’ and for another, there are some incredibly nasty, cruel scenes (for example, Pesh-Chidin filling Lily’s mouth with dirt) that seem more deserving of an 18 certificate than a 15. Also, though the final scenes are exciting, the actual ending is both abrupt and disappointing.
That said, The Missing is an engaging, enjoyable Western that is well acted and well directed. In fact, the Western is going through something of a welcome mini-revival at the moment, since Kevin Costner’s equally traditional (and equally enjoyable) Open Range is due out three weeks after The Missing opens. Recommended.