December 2 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 52  

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Missing: clear artistic vision

The Missing
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd
Directed by: Ron Howard

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

The Missing is, no pun intended, missing something.

Gazette file photo
WHAT ARE YA LOOKIN’ FOR, KID? Oh yeah, you’re trying to find what’s missing. Jenna Boyd stars as Dot in The Missing.

It’s not a bad movie by any stretch; director Ron Howard has crafted a perfectly serviceable story of vengeance and redemption. The plot centres around Maggie Gilkeson (Blanchett), a doctor living on a New Mexico ranch in 1885 with her two daughters and her lover/ranchhand Brake (Aaron Eckhart). One day, what appears to be an old native man comes to the ranch in need of treatment, but it is really Samuel (Jones), Maggie’s estranged father who left her years ago to join a native tribe.

Maggie wants nothing to do with her father, but is forced to enlist his help when Brake is murdered and her eldest daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by a gang of native soldiers gone renegade from the U.S. army. These soldiers, led by their mystic leader Chidin (Eric Schweig), are kidnapping girls with the intent to sell them across the border in Mexico. Maggie, Samuel and the youngest daughter Dot (Boyd) set out to get Lily back, while Samuel is also on a quest of a larger sort to try and atone for his past mistakes with Maggie.

All the elements are here for a good ol’ fashioned Western, but the script could have used a bit of trimming. There is too much time wasted on Lily’s futile attempts to escape her captors and by the third instance, the audience knows she’s not going anywhere. Similarly, Dot continually keeps getting Maggie and Samuel into trouble and the excuse that “she would’ve followed us anyway” is a pretty poor reason for taking a young child along to face a group of killers.

The final showdown between the heroes and villains is also drawn out and suffers from incredulity when the aged Samuel goes toe-to-toe with the apparently supernatural Chidin. At this point in his life, the only person Tommy Lee Jones should be able to square off against is Robert Redford in a “whose skin is more leathery” contest.

All kidding aside, Jones’ performance is as solid as you would expect and Blanchett’s is good enough to hold up her reputation as one of the better actresses in movies today. Wood and Boyd also give good performances, avoiding the dreaded “child actor” moments that can sometimes ruin a movie.

No doubt Howard’s own experience as a child star came in handy while directing them, perhaps the one situation where he was the right director to guide this movie. He has made some terrific films in the past and is the sort of versatile director who can work in any genre: comedy (Parenthood), drama (A Beautiful Mind), sci-fi (Cocoon), kids’ movies (The Grinch), biopic (Apollo 13) and movies that degenerate into axe battles (Backdraft).

On the one hand, Howard has range, but you could also say there is no such thing as a “Ron Howard film” in terms of a recognizable style. He is a director at the mercy of his script, without the innate artistic ability to rise above average material. It takes a better director than Howard to rise above the limitations inherent to The Missing as a Western, the film genre that is perhaps more restricted than any other in terms of clichés.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with The Missing and it’s worth a rental if not a rush out to the theatre. Given the talent involved in the production, however, it’s clear that what was “missing” was a clear artistic vision.



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