Thursday 9 June 2022

Movie Review: The Missing (2003)

A soulful western, The Missing depicts a traditional rescue journey into hazardous terrain, spiked with moments of ferocious cruelty.

The setting is New Mexico in the late 1800s. Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) makes a surprise return to the isolated ranch of his grown daughter Maggie (Cate Blanchett). He had abandoned the family to join the Chiricahua tribe when Maggie was a child, and she never forgave him. Now Maggie is raising two daughters, teenager Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and the younger but more spirited Dot (Jenna Boyd). Brake (Aaron Eckhart) is Maggie's unofficial partner.

A renegade group of Apache sex slavers led by the evil El Brujo (Eric Schweig) kills Brake and kidnaps Lilly, intending to sell her along with other captive women in Mexico. Getting no assistance from the authorities, Maggie reluctantly seeks Jones' help, and Dot insists on joining them on a perilous journey to rescue Lilly.

Carrying strong echoes from the classic John Wayne western The Searchers, The Missing is an ode to the genre's fundamentals. Written by Ken Kaufman and directed by Ron Howard, the plot is anchored by a dangerous but necessary rescue campaign, with a sub-theme of forgiveness sought and withheld between father and daughter. The movie is slow but determined, dripping with the power of robust characters and the dangers of a challenging landscape captured by cinematographer Salvatore Totino.

Despite a long running length of well over two hours, Howard maintains interest with regular highlights. A jagged path through a rocky mountain becomes a drowning hazard during a downpour. The previously sheltered and unappreciative Lilly, now a captive, discovers her inner resolve during interludes with the slavers and their bounty of kidnapped women. A sub-plot of allies is introduced in the story of a Chiricahua father and son who join forces with Samuel and Maggie to try and free their own captive from El Brujo's clutches.

During the quiet interludes, Maggie refuses to easily forgive the father who abandoned her and hastened her mother's death. Jones can only be true to himself, and accepts the emotional punishment with stoic resignation. The sustained tension between them adds welcome character depth.

Violence spices up the mix. Kaufman and Howard do not hold back on El Brujo's willingness to use supernatural powers, witchcraft, and torture to intimidate and thrive. In a harrowing and difficult sequence, Maggie, Jones and Dot stumble onto the site of El Brujo's barbarism, and the remnants of his savagery are abhorrent. He is a formidable opponent, brought to life by a domineering Eric Schweig performance full of physicality and few words. Opposing him is Tommy Lee Jones at his craggy best carrying the burden of a mistake-filled life, well matched by a tenacious Cate Blanchett refusing to give up on finding her daughter.

The Missing lacks premise originality, but finds a rugged and respectful genre salute.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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