The Missing

Sub-par western chase hokum with bonus added hocus-pocus nonsense. Certainly missing something.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 01 Mar 2004 by Scott Morris
The Missing image

These days you don't get many Westerns to the pound. In the latest movie to drip from Ron Howard's seemingly endless supply of mostly average crowd pleasers, it might be better if the genre remained on life support rather that have unsuspecting audiences suffer through it's ghoulish resurrection of a Western chase movie.

The concept is so simple it's difficult to see how such an experienced director could shoot so wide of the mark. The relative tranquility of New Mexico rancher Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) is disturbed when her father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) appears having walked out on her family when Maggie was a mere slip of a girl. Although he's met with a frosty reception, after an attack on her ranch leaves her hired hands dead and her eldest daughter Lily (Thirteen's Evan Rachel Wood) kidnapped they resolve to track and find the ne'er-do-well's, the local police and army showing little interest in helping them. They are accompanied by Maggie's other daughter Dot (Jenna Boyd), largely so she can get into dangerous predicaments that Samuel can save her from.

As it transpires, Lily is one of many girls taken by a loose coalition of deserting Apache army trackers and various other scumballs, lead by a fearsome witchdoctor, Chidin (Eric Schweig). The twist in this particular tale comes from Samuel having spent the last twenty years living amongst the Apache people to the extent that he's often mistaken for one of them. It's not much of a twist admittedly, but it's a mild subversion of the oft seen Cowboys vs. Indians tale, an Indian vs. Indian tale, if you'll pardon the terrible lack of political correctness the term implies.

The Missing image

While the chase occurs at a rather sedentary pace for the most part it's engaging on at least some level thanks in part to Jones' seemingly nonsequitur-esque answers to straightforward questions and some admittedly stunning locations. A shame then that it forces Chidin from being a relatively sensible if overdramatic medicine man, using various extracted venoms and suchlike for his evil ends, to an utterly moronic shaman, chanting and waving like some wacky RPG character causing pustules and fevers to be visited on people twenty miles away. This is smacked round an unsuspecting audiences collective head with no real prior warning and will come as something of a jar to those expecting what the official website erroneously calls 'an action-filled suspense thriller'.

I might let The Lord of the Rings away with spells, mystical powers and whatnot but it's not really what I'm looking for in a Western. Ron Howard might have wanted to distance himself from the genre clichés but making his film offensively stupid is hardly the answer. With what little good will remaining to it urinated away on a stream of fantasy there's little incentive to buy into their plans to liberate the captives.

Indeed, while technically sound and containing most of the elements that would otherwise make an entertaining ending, by this point you'll have either switched off or in the case of our own Disko fallen asleep. Hardly what you'd be entitled to expect from an action filled suspense thriller, isn't it?

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Sadly the only thing I can really remark on for the majority of the film is how unremarkable it is. While initial fears that this Tommy Lee Jones chase movie (practically a genre in itself) would play like The Fugitive Rides Again were soon disproved they were only replaced with a genuine wish that it was The Fugitive Rides Again. Jones puts in a restrained performance that suits the character well but his time as a grizzled action hero seems to be coming to a premature end, killed by typecast. Cate Blanchett is certainly present, and only occasionally annoying.

As with most films of this ilk there needs to be a strong villain to play off, and for a time it seems like the imposing and fearsome Eric Schweig might achieve this, despite Eric being one of the least fearsome names on the planet. Then the above silliness transpires, and it's all we can do to stifle the laughter every time he reappears on screen. Evan Rachel Wood is given little to do as the damsel in distress.

While admittedly on occasion The Missing looks very pretty indeed, that's no reason to splash out on a ticket for a film so devoid of tension and thrills. It's technical competence stops this being an abject failure but the fact remains that it's not an engaging experience and certainly not an enjoyable one, perhaps empathised by the knowledge that we've seen far, far better from everyone involved in this film, especially Ron Howard. <obilgatory Happy Days reference> Fonzie will be most disappointed.</obilgatory>Happy Days reference>

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Ron Howard
Cast list:
Tommy Lee Jones (Samuel Jones)
Cate Blanchett (Maggie Gilkeson)
Evan Rachel Wood (Lily Gilkeson)
Jenna Boyd (Dot Gilkeson)
Aaron Eckhart (Brake Baldwin)
Val Kilmer (Lieutenant)
Eric Schweig (Chidin)
Steve Reevis (Two Stone)
Jay Tavare (Kayitah)