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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.54%
Worth A Look38.46%
Average: 19.23%
Pretty Bad: 25%
Total Crap: 5.77%

4 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Missing, The (2003)
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by Erik Childress

"The Second Great Western Of The Year"
4 stars

Donít ever tell me that the Western is dead. Simple rule of fact Ė you keep the teen heartthrobs out of it and tell the makers of garbage like American Outlaws and Texas Rangers ďnoĒ, just focus on a mature audience and you will rarely step wrong. Students of the genre all have their favorites from John Ford to Sergio Leone to Clint Eastwood. Itís a shame that an Academy Award winning director still has to hear taunts of ďOpieĒ attached to any project he turns out and its quite a stigma to overcome when his first effort since winning the Oscar emulates so closely patterns what is, unarguably, one of the five greatest Westerns ever made (not to mention films in general.) But Ron Howard successfully avoids all the associative traps delivering one of his finest achievements and a helluva Western to boot.

Evoking the spirit of John Fordís monumental The Searchers, Thomas Eidsonís novel, The Last Ride, also deals with a kidnapping and the rescue mission that follows. On paper itís a simplistic premise, but as often said itís the journey and not the outcome that makes it worth taking.

Maggie Gilkerson (Cate Blanchett) lives off the range in New Mexico working as a ďhealerĒ and raising her two daughters with Brake (Aaron Eckhart), the man in her life since her husband passed on. Riding back into their lives is Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), the father who abandoned her over 30 years ago to live the life of an Apache. Much to his dismay, Maggie wants no part of his reconciliation. Her youngest daughter, Dot (Jenna Boyd) lights up at the prospect of having some Indian blood in her while eldest Lily (Evan Rachel Wood), just coming around to womanhood, wants nothing more than to leave this life behind and start anew.

In her passage to the next phase of her life, Lily is abducted by a posse selling white girls throughout the land. With the local sheriff and army being of no assistance, Maggie must turn to Samuel to help her track them. And the journey begins. But itís not an episodic affair built upon set pieces and sprawling action. There are stops along the way to fight nature and to learn more about their enemy, but this is a personalized tale that puts its rich characters at the forefront.

Maggie will clash with the spiritual beliefs of Samuel, just one aspect of her fatherís history that she wants to understand now that her family is in danger of being torn apart forever. His Apache ways conflict with her understanding that this may be no more than an empty gesture late in his life, which doesnít stop his fatherly instincts to put the fear of God into both Maggie and her daughter about how dangerous these bad men are.

Dot witnessed the traumatic ordeal and quickly begins a change in attitude towards the Indians not unlike John Wayneís seething hatred in Fordís masterpiece. Except itís the beginning of such loathing and one that Dot isnít fully ready to understand as she watches the treatment of the captured with equal parts hate and sympathy.

Much like The Searchers, The Missing is an adventure tale interlaced with relationships that will attempt to reconcile beliefs while reuniting a family. Thereís an ominous, cold tone present in every frame that puts us in touch with their passage through both the landscape and an ever-growing thirst for blood. Maggie and Samuelís voyage is intercut with that of the mixed clan of Indians and white men whose quest for money supercedes any of the oaths or religious aspirations they may have followed at one time.

Howard does such a tremendous job with establishing the evil and one-upping their own nefarious actions with every scene, that the audience abandons all notions of forgive-and-forget and wants to see a comeuppance of biblical proportions. The screenplay doesnít paint this as a morality play with gray areas stormclouding the issue. Kidnapping and selling girls for profit Ė bad. Mother and grandfather exorcising their right to protect their own Ė good. And Iím fine with that since sometimes things are just that black-and-white.

But that same bloodlust, driven by my increasing disgust for the vile Chidin (Eric Schweig) and the men whom he rides with, led me to underwhelming satisfaction with its conclusion. Perhaps thatís not Howardís fault as Iím accustomed to wanting great villains like these (and boy, are they) punished in such a way that the landlords of Danteís Inferno would wince at my ideas of revenge. For more than two solid acts, a powerhouse finale was imminent and deserved. When it arrives though, it canít possibly live up to what is truly deserved by these men (save for one tremendous leap of faith) and doesnít adrenalize like Wayneís charge through the Indian village nearly 50 years ago nor even the gun battle in Kevin Costnerís Open Range earlier this year. Maybe itís just me though since its still a satisfying conclusion that weíre guided towards through a checklist of great performances.

Cate Blanchett shines far greater here than in the lackluster Veronica Guerin just last month and if youíve somehow disregarded how masterfully she can command the screen, then look no further. Several scenes have ďOscar clipĒ written all over them (and Iím calling a nomination here), but Blanchett never overplays the moment, getting you in touch with what a strong woman this is who isnít out trying to prove it. Tommy Lee Jones, in about his eighth hunter/tracker role in the past decade, hasnít had one this solid since The Fugitive and he nails it. Eric Schweig isnít called on much but to look ugly and never smile, but he sold me since his villainous actions speak louder than words. Finally, some special praise is deserved for 10-year old Jenna Boyd for the kind of striking, unforced emotional performance that we remember from the young Natalie Portman.

The Missing truly is one of the yearís great pieces of storytelling and another impressive entry on the resume of Ron Howard. It takes some moxie to dive headfirst into a project that he must be aware will almost force comparison to one of the true masterpieces of the genre. He accomplishes a rare feat by turning the tables away from discussion of a derivative nature and keeping us focused on the story at hand and then later admiring what a solid companion piece it would make. Iím confident that audiences will be along for the ride and likely appreciate the climactic standoff more than I did, which makes what Iíve said faint praise and I still think its one of the yearís great films.

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originally posted: 11/26/03 17:03:28
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User Comments

7/14/19 Joe Smaltz Love a western where women are strong and smart, men are weak pussies, and poor shots. 2 stars
9/14/17 morris campbell boring imho 1 stars
8/24/06 R.W.Welch May be too bleak for many but has some very good performances. 3 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Old fashioned oater, but nothing wrong with that. 4 stars
6/06/06 micky very good in deed 5 stars
8/19/05 ES good movie, Cate doesn't need special effects (see LOTR) to sell forboding lines= good film 4 stars
4/10/05 Cheryl Mayfield Pretty crappy, but seeing Cate Blanchett preparing to wipe her butt was worth it. 2 stars
4/04/05 Jim Good, if a touch long. Brujo's curse may explain TLJ in "Man Of The House". 4 stars
1/05/05 clatz A great film, well work a look if you like the genre 4 stars
9/27/04 Agent Sands How refreshing for there to finally be another western, and a great one at that. 5 stars
9/10/04 psycho dwarf 2 Apaches ride into sunset...what's missing? The HERO maybe? They're the VILLAINS moRon! 2 stars
9/08/04 JeffK Surprizingly good. I enjoyed it. 4 stars
6/21/04 Rock Hound If Ron Howard directs another western, I'll lose my faith in Hollywood, and America, too. 2 stars
6/11/04 herkos akhaion The best western I've seen in many years 5 stars
5/07/04 Ross Very good movie. Very good. 5 stars
5/04/04 bsho76 zzzzzzzzzzzzzz 3 stars
3/27/04 Alien Assassin Not bad, but someone other than Ron Howard should have directed this 4 stars
2/04/04 Cheryl Mayfield Pretty crappy, but seeing Cate Blanchett preparing to wipe her butt was worth it. 2 stars
1/25/04 c its a trip, but kinda drawn out. 4 stars
1/21/04 Betty White Ron Howard should never direct again. 1 stars
12/10/03 vagile Parenthood on strong peyote 5 stars
12/10/03 Wolf Too long, too contrived, too brutal. Can't fault TLJ or any cast tho, blame the director. 2 stars
12/06/03 ownerofdajoint go see it/tommy lee jones is great 5 stars
11/29/03 michaelb14 good movie, however it does drag somewhat 4 stars
11/29/03 Jack the Dagger this movie was real long and real boring. predictable and stupid. rental at best 2 stars
11/29/03 Str8Dog learchingly slow at times. NOT a supernatural thriller as the trailers lead you to think 3 stars
11/26/03 David good movie 3 stars
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  26-Nov-2003 (R)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004



Directed by
  Ron Howard

Written by
  Ken Kaufman

  Tommy Lee Jones
  Cate Blanchett
  Evan Rachel Wood
  Jenna Boyd
  Aaron Eckhart
  Val Kilmer

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