The Missing (8)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

 Maggie (Cate Blanchett) is a frontierswoman healer, living with her two daughters, Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd), out in the middle of nowhere in the American Southwest in 1885.  Lilly is kidnapped by psychopathic Apache medicine man Pesh-Chidin (Eric Schwieg), one of the more evil bad guys in movie history.  Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of her hated father, Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), to track them down.

 What follows is a dark, depressing, 2 hour 10 minute ordeal of brilliant film making and acting. Blanchett’s performance is exceptional, as is ten-year-old Jenna Boyd’s. The film includes a lot of violence, both on and off screen, both physical and emotional. Maggie feels guilty about her relationship with her daughters and is angry about the way Jones treated her and her mother. Jones had deserted Maggie and her mother to go live with the Apaches 20 years earlier. Jones, too, is trying to deal with the emotions of what he did. In addition to all this psychological trauma, people die horribly as Pesh-Chidin and his gang go about kidnapping other young girls to sell them into slavery in Mexico.

 Lilly’s life as a captive is hell. In one horrible scene Pesh-Chidin forces dirt down Lilly’s mouth and holds it shut, telling her, “this is what your life is going to be like until you die.” Actually, that’s a pretty accurate description of what life is like sitting through this film. It is unremittingly depressing.

 As good a director as Ron Howard has become, he could still learn from the old masters, like John Ford. Ford’s classic, The Searchers (1956), had a similar story as John Wayne was searching for Natalie Wood, who had been kidnapped by the Indians as a child. The genius of Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, from which Howard could learn, was that even though The Searchers was a hard film about kidnapping and loss, they inserted humor into it by the simple expedient of having Wayne say, “That’ll be the day,” several times throughout the movie whenever someone suggested something Wayne thought unlikely. This gave it a lighthearted touch of humor needed so it was not quite so grim. Alfred Hitchcock said, “You couldn’t make a picture like Psycho (1960) without a sense of humor because you know you’re going to put your audience through the ringer.” That type of exigent relief is missing from The Missing.

 This is a terrific movie, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who didn’t want to spend over two hours sharing everybody’s misery. This film is an ordeal, but the acting and the story and the direction are spellbinding.

 November 17, 2003

 The End