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The Missing (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two alternate endings; 5 deleted scenes; 5 Ron Howard featurettes; Outtake reel; 3 short films; Photo gallery.

RON Howard isn’t usually associated with being a tough and uncompromising director, which makes his Western, The Missing, all the more striking.

Set in New Mexico, circa 1885, the film is a tense, gripping character study, with shades of the supernatural, which consistently manages to bring a fresh perspective to life in the old West.

Based on the 1995 novel, ‘The Last Ride’, by Thomas Eidson, the film finds Cate Blanchett on blistering form as a feisty mother-of-two, who is forced to reconcile her differences with her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones), when her eldest daughter is kidnapped, to be sold into slavery, by a group of renegade Indians.

But while the premise contains plenty of nods to John Ford’s seminal Western, The Searchers, it is also a very different affair, providing a dark, and frequently violent, insight into an unforgiving land, which is rife with wayward attitudes.

The first half, in particular, provides some harrowing insights into the barbarity of life on the open plains, courtesy of Eric Schweig’s terrifying Apache witch, who has a habit of slaughtering the families of the women he kidnaps.

Yet it doesn’t merely paint the Indians as renegades, or the white man as a hero, throwing in plenty of dubious characters along the way to its taut climax.

Howard proves equally adept at juggling the revisionist elements of the story, with more traditional family values, while also providing an effective homage to the classics of the past. Hence, it has the power to appeal to the purists, as well as those in search of something more contemporary.

And Howard, who played alongside John Wayne in The Duke’s final film, The Shootist, certainly seems to have remembered how to ride the genre.

His film refrains from becoming overly-sentimental, yet still provides a deeply involving story, thriving on the obvious chemistry between Blanchett and Jones, and neatly avoiding the temptation to become too heavy-handed.

Viewers must wait to find out Jones’ motivations for the decisions he has made, just as Blanchett has to, making the scenes between them all the more intriguing, while insights into the Indian way of life, and its mysticism, cannot fail to grip.

There is an inherent sense of danger that permeates proceedings, which refuses to allow viewers to relax, while the set pieces, when they arrive, are competently and strikingly handled.

Performance-wise, the movie is also spot-on, with Blanchett especially strong as the mother who is forced to confront the sense of loss she has felt throughout her life, when presented with the possibility of losing her daughter. It is a role which is, at different turns, vulnerable and angry, but completely root-worthy.

Jones, too, is stronger than he has been for some time, effectively conveying the inner demons of a complicated man, who is wracked with regret, yet keen to correct past misdemeanours.

While the support cast is universally good, especially ten-year-old Jenna Boyd, who delivers a performance that belies her age, as Blanchett’s youngest daughter. Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart also crop up with extended cameos.

The Missing, rather curiously, didn’t fare too well with US audiences, after a mixed response from the critics, but it would be a tragedy if a similar fate befell it here. This has all the makings of a classic, and is one of Howard’s strongest efforts to date. Make sure it doesn’t go missing from your must-see schedule.

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