The Missing

The Missing

***

Reviewed by: David Haviland

In one of the lighter moments of this period thriller, Tommy Lee Jones's character, a white man who has "gone native", is asked what his given Red Indian name means. Reluctantly, he explains that a rough translation would be Shit For Luck, as the Apache people value family very highly and he is a man with none.

Jones's character, also called Jones, is "the missing" of the title, as the reason he has no family is because he deserted his wife and daughter 20 years before. The film opens with his return, as he tries to rebuild a relationship with his daughter, Maggie (Cate Blanchett), who now has two daughters of her own, Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd). Maggie refuses to see him, but when Lily is captured by Indians, she needs his help and so they set off to rescue her.

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Despite its setting in 19th century New Mexico, The Missing 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 uses the setting to dramatise a contemporary story about the duties of parenthood. Maggie bitterly resents Jones for leaving them all those years ago and Lily, in turn, resents Maggie, feeling trapped by her rural upbringing.

The bleak, gritty landscapes reflect the complex morality of the characters. Jones offers no apology for abandoning his family and remarrying and expects no forgiveness. The best that can be hoped for is a new accord, as Maggie explains: "What you're doing, you're doing for your own soul, 'cause what you've done, you can't undo."

This focus on the emotional aspects of the story generates surprisingly powerful scenes. When Maggie sets off to rescue Lily, she plans on leaving young Dot behind, but Dot witnessed the abduction of Lily and the murder of two others and begs her mother, in a heart-wrenching moment, to take her along.

The Missing is an entertaining film, but it feels 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 work, as the action sequences seem a little over the top in what is essentially a small human drama.

Seeing Dot at yet another gunfight, after she's witnessed numerous brutal murders, as well as the kidnapping of her sister, and has almost drowned, seems a little bathetic.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2004
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When an Indian tribe kidnap her daughter, Maggie is forced to accept the help of her estranged father.
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Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Ken Kaufman, based on The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer

Year: 2003

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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