The Missing Person

The Missing Person


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Despite employing the scheming and twisting tropes of older film noir, The Missing Person is a thoroughly modern film and dressed appropriately. Michael Shannon, fresh from his impressive Oscar-nominated turn in Revolutionary Road plays John Rosow, a brooding private eye. He is hired to find out more about Harold Fullmer (Frank Wood), heading west with a Mexican kid in tow. Rosow's marinated-in-alcohol persona (his pay is $500 per day, "plus expenses - not including gin") and psychological makeup from his recent past combined with the story's revelations - Fuller turns out to be one of the missing after the Twin Towers attack - make for a fine character study.

The concept of uncovering and locating a man who has fallen off the grid after 9/11 is an intriguing one. The script doesn't pay too much attention to the realities and contradictions involved in living this alternate life, it's mostly swept under the carpet. But the brooding fallout from 9/11 lingers heavily in the film. Notably, noir has a tendency to be an amalgamation of recent cultural traumas. It calls to mind Kiss Me Deadly and other post World War II noir writings, reeling from The Bomb.

Copy picture

There may not be much beyond the surface, but it's a fine surface, and its mood is excellent - it takes great measures to replicate the look and feel of classic gumshoe films. Its characters are also aware of the old-fashioned detective cliches and Humphrey Bogart-esque wisecracking and smoking - although this is amusingly countered by California's recent ban. Buschel knows how to shoot a scene, and amuse the viewer - this much is clear. But it's not quite enough to find its audience.

It plays, much like Far From Heaven and Brick, as a conceptual idea taken to half-extremes - what it lacks is the prior films' surefooted storytelling. One is not quite sure if The Missing Person is being played for cineaste laughs, or it is too close to its noir inspirations. The script is nearly devoid of action set-pieces, which can be a great thing for a genre more known for sensationalist silliness. What it has, are a good assortment of sharply drawn characters: multiple femme fatales, interfering FBI agents, an uptight cop, an unseen and powerful lawyer and, importantly, Shannon holds his own against them.

The Missing Person is a movie for cinephiles steeped in noir knowledge - and might be somewhat inaccessible to those who just want to turn up and have a good time without engaging, or those without crime drama baggage. It is well crafted (although the colour grading used on the digitally treated HD-Cam photography looks somewhat questionable), and wonderfully performed, albeit a cinematic experience which will not transcend its genre.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2009
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Neonoir about a private eye charged with following a man presumed dead after 9/11.
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Director: Noah Buschel

Writer: Noah Buschel

Starring: Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Frank Wood, Linda Emond, Paul Sparks, Margaret Colin, John Ventimiglia, Yul Vazquez, Merritt Wever, Daniel Franzese

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

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