Saturday 24 February 2018

Movie Review: Missing (1982)

A geopolitical drama thriller based on real events, Missing lifts the veil on the American-backed military Coup d'├ętat that toppled Chilean President Allende.

Chile, 1973. Charlie Horman (John Shea) is an American aspiring artist and writer. With his friend Terry (Melanie Mayron), Charlie is a trapped in a seaside resort town when the military junta stage a coup. With soldiers swarming the streets, civilians are abducted and shot almost at random. Charlie and Terry make it back to Santiago thanks to help from a group of mysterious American men and Charlie reunites with his wife Beth (Sissy Spacek).

But soon Charlie himself goes missing. and his father Ed (Jack Lemmon) flies in from the United States to try and locate him. Ed is a successful businessman and his relationship with the free-spirited Beth is strained, but they team up and try to get answers from the dense wall of on-the-ground American bureaucracy. Gradually they piece together Charlie's final few days and what may have prompted his disappearance.

Directed and co-written by Costa-Gavras, Missing is an often harrowing journey into the hell-on-earth created by violent regime overthrows. While the disappearance of Charlie Horman is front and centre, Missing is just as much about the background and context as it is about its central story. Costa-Gavras creates a milieu of chaos, where in every scene shots suddenly ring out, soldiers are in the corner of every fame terrorizing the streets, bullet-perforated dead bodies litter the sidewalks, and civilians are plucked from bus line-ups, summarily searched and bundled onto military vehicles.

And sometimes the horror is placed squarely in the foreground. Beth and Ed are eventually escorted to ground zero of civilian suffering, the stadium where detainees are held. Here the cold calculus of collateral damage is on full display, political decisions made thousands of miles away translated into abominable crimes against humanity.

Missing also works as a journey of awakening for Ed, who gradually has to face the implications of his blind belief in the greatness of his country. With Jack Lemmon in astounding form, Ed will finally get to know his son, start to appreciate his daughter-in-law, and receive a crash course in American foreign policy, and all the lessons are full of emotional pain.

Despite the documentary style recreation of a country undergoing a transformational convulsion, Missing does shortchange the local population. The Horman story is a personal tragedy, but the one missing American pales in comparison to the thousands of Chileans who lost their lives. They remain faceless and nameless victims, the film not investing enough in the local dimensions of the calamity.

Hard hitting and unblinking, Missing exposes the terrifying human devastation caused by the cold-blooded quest for global supremacy.

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