In the wilderness of New Mexico in 1885, Maggie (Cate Blanchett) is raising her two daughters, teenager Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and the younger Dot (Jenna Boyd), working the tough land as best she can and doing a bit of medical work, healing the odd local. The only man in her life is hired hand and would-be husband Brake (Aaron Eckhart), until her estranged father Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) turns up unexpectedly, after 20 years with the Apache people. Maggie wants nothing to do with him, but when the ruthless slave trading shaman Pesh-Chidin (Eric Schweig) kidnaps Lilly, Maggie reluctantly finds that her father is the only one able to help bring Lilly back, in a wild country and up against a mixed group of Indians and whites, all as vicious as each other. Pesh-Chidin’s gang is heading to Mexico to sell Lilly and several other young kidnapped girls, unless Maggie and Jones can somehow stop them.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The bad and dangerous old West is the setting for the emotional and dramatic story of a woman whose father abandoned her and her mother 20 years earlier, and now returns to the last remaining members of his family. His redemption comes at a price, of course, and not quickly, either. This is the substance from which the film’s Western genre draws its gravitas, fully loaded with the big cartridges of Blanchett and Jones, whose star power fuels the entire two hours of tension.
The Missing can be enjoyed as sheer entertainment, with the kidnap story as its central plot, baddies on one side, mother and daughter on the other, with various eccentric character add-ons. And it’s pretty good, too, superbly photographed and designed, with Ron Howard’s masterly direction finessing the complexities of modern social politics so that the film can never be accused of racism. It’s not even cowboys & Indians; it’s more like Indians & Indians all mixed with white folk. I don’t know how much of the dialogue comes from the book, but I doubt that some of the Indians’ dialogue is original. They seem to speak in modern idioms like “pissed off” according to the subtitles.
But that aside, the film feels sincere and it does keep in mind the family drama while pushing the action scenes as hard as necessary. Howard also gets much out of his actors, with Cate Blanchett delivering a faultless characterisation which is the film’s beating heart, while Tommy Lee Jones holds back just enough to make him a figure with whom we can empathise, without admiring his past. The complexities override the simplifications or overstatements, and we gain genuine satisfaction from the film as human experience to be shared.
Review by Louise Keller:
A handsome and gripping large-scale drama with mystical themes, The Missing takes us deep into the American South West in 1885 for a journey whose perils are both physical and emotional. Superbly crafted and with a splendid cast that allows our connection to be more than superficial, Ron Howard has made a film where the central focus is on women, and whose challenge is the daily struggle for survival.
An intense and emotionally dense tale that translates effectively from the pages of the novel to the screen, the heart of the story lies in the fractured relationship between Cate Blanchett’s tough, pioneering Maggie and her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) whose newly adopted life as an Apache has destroyed every ounce of faith she ever had in him. She is a devout Christian whose belief in men has floundered, leaving behind bias and distrust; he is a man disillusioned by life whose newly found faith has led him onto a road of redemption.
Blanchett has that amazing ability to ‘become’ the character without leaving a single trace of ‘the actress’ behind, and here she is the epitome of grace as she endures hardships both physical and emotional. Blanchett, like Maggie, is strong, and her strength filters through – whether she is chopping wood or offering emotional support to her daughters. Lee Jones makes a surprisingly credible Apache Indian, and his dry sense of humour (highlighted by the effective use of the Apache dialogue with subtitles) grows on us, as we begin to understand his beliefs and his motivations. In fact, much of the film’s charm is about the Apache culture, and the understanding we glean from its people.
Expansive, bleak and sparse desert settings look splendid through the cinematic eye of Salvatore Totino, and James Horner’s lyrical score (with effective use of pipes) is fittingly grand. There’s oodles of charisma from Aaron Eckhart who plays Maggie’s lover; my only complaint is that his screen time is far too short. At 10 years of age, Jenna Boyd impresses greatly by her highly sensitive performance as Maggie’s younger daughter Dot. Eric Schweig, splendidly disfigured by prosthetic face plates, rotting teeth and a mass of stringy, black hair, makes a terrifying adversary; the scene when he plants a hex on Maggie is most effective, with succinct editing allowing the eerie notion of mystic transference. There’s tension throughout, but it’s the emotional subtext that has greater impact than all of the physical perils. (PS Not to be confused with the 1999 Australian film of the same title, directed by Manuela Alberti.)
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MISSING, THE (M)
CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, Sergio Calderon, Eric Schweig, Steeve Reevis, Jay Tavare, Simon Baker,
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer, Daniel Ostroff
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
SCRIPT: Ken Kaufman (Thomas Eidson, novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Salvatore Totino
EDITOR: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: (Visual Consultant) Meredith Boswell
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: ColTristar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 4, 2004