As so often happens with my tv watching, I came into the film, The Missing, a bit late. However the story became fairly clear as we went along, which presumably means that the script for the most part was actually well written for once.
A very intense movie, particularly in the performances of Cate Blanchett (who seems to be living on her nerves throughout) and Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Blanchett's father, a man who's 'gone Indian' at some point. Why, I'm not sure. That was something I missed.
The film a bit like an alternative version of The Searchers, but it wears its connections to that movie pretty lightly. A gang of rogue Indians, ex-US army employees, are aiming to make some quick money by kidnapping teenage girls so as to sell them across the Mexican border. They're accompanied by a couple of unpleasant white men, and a wimp of a photographer.
The leader of the group is a very nasty piece of work who’s well and truly into witchcraft. Naturally this doesn’t make him popular with the other characters.
Blanchett’s de facto husband is ambushed and killed by the gang, and his teenage daughter is kidnapped. A much younger daughter is left behind. Blanchett finds her man’s body and hears what happened from her younger (and, once she’s recovered from the shock, particularly spunky) daughter). Blanchett tries to get the local sheriff to do something, but he’s not interested. In the end she has to rely on her father, with whom she’s had virtually no relationship previously, to assist her. After considerable argy-bargy, the two learn to work together, and go off to rescue the daughter.
So much about this movie is superbly done that it overcomes any limitations in the characters or plot. The acting is uniformly of a high quality (including Val Kilmer’s cameo appearance), and Blanchett and Jones are outstanding. The photography, (Salvatore Totino) whether it’s gazing calmly on a shimmering desert or on the stark lines of Blanchett’s face, is always a pleasure to view. The music, (by James Horner) which reminded me so strongly of Howard Shore’s scores for the Lord of the Rings, eschews any ‘Western’ gallumping music and goes for eerie melodies and sad soaring songs.
And perhaps the most amazing thing is that the film is directed by Ron Howard. Yes, I know he’s regarded as one of Hollywood’s top journeymen directors, year in and year out producing movies of a high quality if not always of much emotional power. But in this movie he steps aside, almost, and lets the actors and story speak for themselves, very effectively.
Maybe the movie wouldn’t have worked without Blanchett and Jones. Both pour heart and soul into their roles, and show the ragged edge of their characters to their fullest extent. But sometimes a piece of ordinary work is transcended by the people involved, and that’s pretty much what’s happened here.
Photo of Cate Blanchett - not as she appears in the movie.