I can’t remember another film in recent times that has been subjected to such false advertising. The trailers, TV spots, and so on all market ‘Missing’ as a creepy period piece thriller with haunting music and odd shots. In actuality “Missing” is a real western – not a gloriously fun popcorn piece ala “Quick & The Dead” or “Back to the Future 3”, rather a very slow grounded drama about a crumbled family and the hardships of life – its not quite the “Unforgiven” masterpiece but its aiming to be in the same mould – however this is one film which certainly won’t get Oscars.
The strength of “Missing” lies in its solid performances from all those involved and Ron Howard’s surprisingly different but interesting direction which takes the very mainstream helmer into darker and more gritty realms than he’s known for. Cate Blanchett does her usual good job (not anywhere near “Elizabeth” standards mind you) and Tommy Lee Jones delivers one of his more interesting characters in a long time. The kids are great, the bad guy is excellent, and even with very limited screen time Aaron Eckhart manages to deliver his usual superb level of work.
Where ‘Missing’ tumbles though is that its too lean. There’s barely enough material for a 1.5 hour movie, let alone something well over two hours. Much like Howard’s other attempt at this genre – namely the Kidman/Cruise starrer “Far and Away”, ‘Missing’ manages to effectively convey the sense of rough and tumble living in a bleak and barren time (almost too well, if there’s one thing Howard ain’t its subtle).
With so much focus on the atmosphere and cruelty of the period, the film oddly enough forgets the one thing that Howard’s films usually have in abundance – a heart. Thus character dynamics and relationships never really click like they should, especially the leads who are are let down by an undeveloped screenplay. For all his manipulations, Howard knows how to get an emotional reaction from an audience and yet that’s why this ultimately never hits its target because its not engaging enough to click on any kind of reaction.
Attempts at Indian mysticism fall flat on their face, similarly scenes and sequences just seem to drag out on and on well past the point where they should’ve ended. Other moments just seem to be inserted in purely to pad out the story (some people, most notably the kidnapped daughter, make some REALLY dumb choices in this movie which just conveniently force things to continue). Watch out for one admittedly unexpected but clever cameo.
As I’m not a fan of westerns this wasn’t a film that was going to majorly appeal to me anyhow. That said it still should’ve had more impact than it did – ultimately I found myself almost nodding off a few times throughout the picture. Like “Open Range”, this is a smaller character movie about Westerns without the usual cliches of the genre. Trouble is other cliches pop up in their place from pseudo-black magic to stupidity and standard face-off sequences. ‘Missing’ is too much like the place its trying to convey – cold, rough, dry and ultimately lifeless.