Ron Howard has been known for his family-friendly, cinematic epics.
But with "The Missing", Howard dips his toes into the turbulent waters
of the Western/Drama genre. Add in a "thriller" component, and you've
got a formula for a potentially great film. Yet, in doing so, it spreads
itself a little thin by attempting to incorporate too many elements,
effectively diluting it into a traditional western movie. A good one
to watch, but not to be remembered for long.
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Of the many elements that the movie touches upon, the central theme is
that of family. The movie starts with Tommy Lee Jones as Sam Jones,
seeks out his long-lost daughter Maggie, whom he'd inexplicably deserted
along with the rest of his family, when she was a child. Maggie, played by
Cate Blanchett, currently works a "healer" now in the farming wilderness
of 19th Century New Mexico, and she's none too happy to see his arrival.
But, when Maggie's daughter is kidnapped the next day by a team of
vengeful Indians, and ruthless and twisted cowboy outlaws, Sam and Maggie
become unintended partners to get her back. Through the course of the
film, the two go through the various stages of family reconstruction:
remorse, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
At this level, the movie works, and the major character performances are
superb, especially that of Cate Blanchett. (Jones' performance is also
good, but he's typecast into this same personality in all his movies,
that it isn't much of a stretch for him.) Yet, the central theme isn't
supported well enough by the subplots and minor characters to give it the
depth that it otherwise deserves. Topics also touched upon are mysticism,
magic, and racial prejudices, none of which are explored at depth, nor
do they contribute to the characters or the story itself. At two hours
and ten minutes, much of that could have been shaved off completely to
leave a more direct, focused and coherent experience.
Still, I give credit to Howard for his departure from his usual big-screen
approach to movie-making. Missing from "Missing" are the beautiful people,
gorgeous landscape photography, and gee-whiz American wholesomeness that
are virtual trademarks of the Christian filmmaker. The grittiness
of the subject mixes well with the equally grainy film stock and muted
scenery of the otherwise breathtaking New Mexican landscape. Add to that
a somewhat naughtier villain, a thriller component, and uncompromisingly
realistic perspective on the life of the 19th Century Pioneer, and the
overall mood and spirit of the film are presented well, devoid of the
typical stereotypes of the times.
There's much to like about "The Missing", but they're found in bits and
pieces that don't contribute cohesively to the whole. While compelling to
watch, I couldn't help but feel anticlimactic in the end, thinking that
it was just another western by a director that can and has made much
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