The Missing (2003) / Western-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 130 min.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Eric Schweig, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Ken Kaufman
Hey, it's Tommy Lee Jones doing what he does best: tracking down people. Films like The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals, Double Jeopardy, and The Hunted are just some of the films where he has had to be on the elusive trail of someone, and if The Missing proves anything, it's that we like Jones as the pursuer just fine.
Based on Thomas Eidson's novel, "The Last Ride," The Missing is Ron Howard's second foray into the world of dark, somber kidnapping flicks (The much underrated Ransom being the other). The setting is New Mexico, circa 1885, where a Maggie Gilkeson raises two daughters, Dot and Lilly. She isn't married, but she has a man, Brake, who wants to make it official, but ghosts from the past prevent her from taking the leap. One such ghost has re-emerged in the form of her estranged father, Samuel, a white man who has been living the life of an Indian for much of his life. She wants nothing to do with him, until one day Brake is found butchered by a clan of Apaches, stealing away her eldest, Lilly, into apparent slavery. With no one else to turn to, Maggie must ride off with this man she despises in the hopes of somehow getting her daughter back.
The one thing some people will immediately slam The Missing for is its strong similarities to one of the most beloved Westerns of all time, The Searchers. Both feature the kidnapping of a girl by murderous Indians, forcing the family to try to track them down. Coincidentally, the last name of both of the actresses who play the kidnapped girl in each respective film is Wood, although no relation in this case. (Some Western buffs may also notice some strong plot similarities to the 1971 Ernest Borgnine/Sammy Davis Jr. flick, The Trackers).
It's a curious Thanksgiving weekend release, but at least the Native Americans play roles as good guys as well as bad, as do the white folk. Although The Missing isn't going to blow anyone away with something new or bold, as it's content to be a traditional Western, it is competently made, delivering a solid story that should keep most riveted for the duration. This is Ron Howard's first Western, he seems quite comfortable with the conventions of the genre, with each scene pushing the gripping story along without the current tendency for sentimentality or blatant revisionism. Howard keeps the action dark and dangerous, creating some suspenseful moments and gritty atmosphere reminiscent of another great recent Westerns, Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
With some fine performances by the main actors, beautiful cinematography by Salvatore Totino, and a rousing score by Ron Howard favorite, James Horner, this is solid entertainment much of the way. Although the Western hasn't been in vogue for many years, films like 2003's Open Range and The Missing prove that there's still potential for it to still be alive and relevant for many years to come.
©2003 Vince Leo