The Missing
3 out of 5 stars
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Ron Howard tackles the Old West with this sweeping drama, which has clear echoes of John Ford's seminal The Searchers. It's an entertaining and gripping film, with stunning production values and magnetic performances. And yet the script's continual pandering to Hollywood cliches lets it down. Maggie (Blanchett) is a feisty medicine woman in 1885 New Mexico, raising daughters Lilly and Dot (Wood and Boyd) on her own and running an isolated farm with a couple of hired hands (Eckhart and Calderon). She gets a serious shock when her long-lost father (Jones) reappears, and she has no intention of welcoming him into her life. But when Lilly is kidnapped by Apaches, Maggie needs his help to get her back. And to stop the evil brujo kidnapper (Schweig) from selling her over the border in Mexico.

This is a terrific story, ripe with meaning as Maggie tries to avoid her father's attempts to reconnect with his family, and yet she begins to realise that her search for her daughter is paralleled in his quest. Jones and Blanchett create powerfully evocative characters that really connect with the audience. It's also great to see such a strong female character in a Western! Howard directs with elegant beauty that captures the genre perfectly and frames these fascinating, involving people against magnificent Southwest landscapes. He's also surprisingly bold in showing us the gruesome violence. And the rescue mission is absolutely riveting! So it's a shame the script continually throws us out of the story with its weak plotting, cross-cutting with Lilly's adventures (interesting but essentially irrelevant), an unbelievably stereotypical villain without even a shred of humanity, and a series of meaningless action sequences that feel dropped in merely to grab our attention rather than tell us anything we don't already know. These things don't destroy the film--it's still engaging on several levels--but they keep it from ever being anything very special. And they're sadly typical of Howard's work as a director: looks great, wonderful ideas, but the elements never quite come together in an original or important way.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 26.Nov.03

dir Ron Howard
scr Ken Kaufman
with Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd, Evan Rachel Wood, Eric Schweig, Jay Tavare, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, Sergio Calderon, Simon Baker, Ray McKinnon, Clint Howard
release US 26.Nov.03; UK 27.Feb.04
03/US 2h10

Family feud: Blanchett (with Wood and Boyd), and Jones.

wood eckhart kilmer
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Laurie T. Minneapolis: "Ron Howard it seems has come under a lot of criticism for how he did this movie, and there is more talk about the Western returning as a genre. Did it ever leave? I also saw an interview when Howard said (paraphrasing here) that basically in the old days, the Western was 'It' - science fiction, love, war, etc. That being said, I wanted to see what one critic dubbed 'the feminist version of The Searchers'. I liked this movie a lot. Tommy Lee Jones plays his part real well - the father who ran off and joined the Indians. He gives no real reason, and during the course of the film it begins to hit him how much he hurt his daughter, her mother and a son he lost, because he left. There are some poingnant moments, as would be expected, and the younger daughter is feisty and enjoyable to watch. I must not forget to mention Blanchett - she plays her part well as the healer/single mom/rancher/mother/lover. An enjoyable film." (2.Dec.03) the missing

David Haviland, London: 3 out of 5 stars "Despite its setting in 19th century New Mexico, this is more of a thriller than a western, with director Ron Howard skilfully constructing a number of suspenseful, action-filled set-pieces. Native Americans are central to the plot, but the film has no interest in politics or history, instead using the setting to dramatise a contemporary story about the duties of parenthood. The bleak, gritty landscapes reflect the complex morality of the characters. Jones's character offers no apology for leaving his family and remarrying, and expects no forgiveness. The best that can be hoped for is a new accord. This focus on the emotional aspects of the story generates some surprisingly powerful scenes. This is an entertaining film, but it felt overlong at 130 minutes, and Maggie is so saintly and cold that it’s hard to fully engage with her. The other issue is that the blend of genres doesn’t quite work, as the action sequences seem a little over the top in what is essentially a small human drama. Seeing Jenna Boyd's Dot at yet another gunfight after she’s already witnessed numerous brutal murders, the kidnapping of her sister, and been almost drowned, seems a little bathetic." (6.Feb.04)

© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall