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The Missing (2003)

  Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Thomas Eidson, Ken Kaufman
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Jenna Boyd, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood
Links: The Missing on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 7.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 104th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Not a hidden gem, but a hidden nice-looking rock at least" - a review by mino

I'm not a fan of westerns: I'll come right out and say it. From The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) to Paint Your Wagon (1969) to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, I don't remember ever being really excited by a western. I don't know what it is, but they just don't tickle my fancy for some reason.

Given that The Missing has had virtually no publicity, I quite literally knew nothing about the plot of the film until I was just about to walk into the cinema. Even at that point, about all I could make out is that it was a frontier-type movie (OK, so maybe not technically a western) with Cate Blanchett in it, and something about her daughter being kidnapped. Now this isn't exactly a potted description likely to glue me to my seat. I'm a big wrap for Blanchett, sure, but a frontier chick-flick? And one co-starring Tommy Lee Jones? Please.

This, of course, made me all the more pleasantly surprised when The Missing actually turned out to be quite a good movie. I mean, it's not perfect, but it's quite an entertaining couple of hours.

Maggie Gilkeson (Blanchett) is a hardy frontier woman with a knack for healing — yeah, I know, Dr. Quinn again — who ekes out a rather sparse existence on the land. When her long-missing father (Jones) rocks up, having bolted from his family years ago to live with a Native American tribe, she gives him pretty short shrift. However, when a raiding party of slavers butchers the hired help and makes off with Gilkeson's youngest daughter, planning to sell her in Mexico, Daddy's skills are suddenly rather more welcome. What follows is a fairly predictable but nevertheless engaging quest to bring back Lily, the daughter, and all her fellow kidnapees.

Now, there are a lot of differences between the two, but it's obviously going to be pretty hard not to compare The Missing with Cold Mountain (2003). Released within several months of each other, both starring Australians as frontier folk, both involving quests to be reunited with loved ones, though in the case of The Missing it's the frontier woman making the trek, rather than waiting for a trekee. In fact, from about ten seconds in, it's hard not to see The Missing as a kind of Cold Mountain in warmer climes — Pleasantly Clement Mountain, if you like. However, nearly everything (not everything, but nearly everything) that Cold Mountain does badly, The Missing does comparably brilliantly.

Blanchett, for a start, is massively more convincing than the rather awful Nicole Kidman in the other film. Where Cold Mountain had a tepid and uninspiring love story, The Missing has a somewhat (though not massively) more interesting story of reconciliation between estranged kin. And while The Missing is, in parts, tediously slow, the fact is that compared to Cold Mountain, it's bloody 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). The action is more exciting, the plot just generally more engaging, and the characters rather more likeable.

One other thing worth pointing out is how The Missing demonstrates the importance of a really good baddie in a movie like this. Compared to the limp-fish albino dude from Cold Mountain, The Missing has one of the most heinous bad guys ever to grace the screen, a scary motherfucker who left me with a lifetime's worth of nightmares. Great stuff, and the difference it makes to the movie is incredible.

Oh, and there's one other key difference which makes The Missing far more enjoyable than its competitor: no Renée Zellweger huffing and stomping around the screen like a brain-damaged Shetland pony. That's worth a few extra points out of ten on its own.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Sat 17 Apr 2004

"The only thing missing was the audience" - a review by freddy

There's something uniquely enjoyable about sitting in a near-empty cinema and watching a film that is really bloody good. Like watching a video in your own lounge room, but with a bigger screen. The only problem is, you think, more people should be seeing this.

I popped along to the Jam Factory of a quiet Sunday afternoon, if for no other reason than I had a free Village ticket that was about to expire. So with no more than a bottle of water and a vanilla choc top to keep me company, I settled back to watch Ron Howard's effort at the western (is there any genre he hasn't tried? Just porn, I suppose).

The plot of The Missing is simple — as westerns invariably are. Cate Blanchett plays Maggie Gilkeson, a self-sufficient woman practising medicine somewhere in New Mexico, sometime in the 1800s. She lives with her two daughters, precious Lily and precocious young Dot, and a few ranch hands, one of whom seems to occasionally visit her bed. She is long estranged from her father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), who evidently left her family many years ago to live with Native Americans.

One day, her long-departed father drops by, seeking to atone for his indiscretions as a parent. Cate is not interested in seeing him; let alone forgiving. But then, having sent him on his way, Lily is kidnapped by a marauding group of criminals (who also slay the ranch hands in very grisly fashion). They plan to sell her in Mexico, and Mr Jones is the only man willing and able to help get her back. Grandfather, mother and remaining daughter get on their horses, and so begins a journey of redemption and all that kind of thing.

On the path of the bad guys, they come across an old Native American friend of Jones whose wife has been kidnapped too. Together, they try to retrieve the kidnap victims. That's a lot easier said than done though, particularly when the ringleader of the baddies is one of the most evil villains seen on film in recent years, and he knows witchcraft. And he looks like he'd have horrible breath too.

Now that I think about it, there's not too much in The Missing that surprises, in terms of what happens. Among the characters, I'm sure you can guess that Maggie and her old man improve their relationship somewhat, and that everybody learns a bit more about Indian culture (apparently they aren't all savages!). But it's just all done really well. There are moments of tension, excitement, horror (especially when you see the bad guy's teeth) and - I've always wanted to use this word in a review — genuine pathos.

Cate Blanchett is magnificent as the strong woman for whom no challenge is too great, Tommy Lee Jones as uncomplicated as ever, even with long hair, and the music and panoramic vistas give it that authentic John Ford-western feel.

This isn't really a review that tells you much I suppose. All I can say is, if The Missing is still playing, check it out. Chances are, you'll be the only one in the cinema, so make the most of it: put your feet up on the seat in front and enjoy.

freddy gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 13 Apr 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 7.00
Lowest rating: 6 (by mino)
Highest rating: 8 (by freddy)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Story line is as the other comments make. Thourghly enjoyed the movie. Sit back and watch. Don't worry about who is who. They all do a good job

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from CCW on Sat 24 Jul 2004 11:40 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 9.00 (1 rating)

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