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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Missing

A dark, creepy, slow-moving western

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 30, 2003 -- “The Missing” is a very dark western from director Ron Howard. Set in 1885 in New Mexico, it has elements of the supernatural and some characters who are very tortured about their past. The characters who are not tortured about their past get killed pretty quickly, putting them out of their misery. The audience, however, must suffer for a long time after that.

Tommy Lee Jones (“The Hunted”) stars as Samuel Jones, one of those men haunted by his past. A white man who has gone native, he doesn't fit into the world of whites, or native Americans either. He is rejected by both groups. He is even rejected by his own daughter, Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) because he abandoned her and the rest of his family years ago. Jones returns to his family unexpectedly after being bitten by a rattlesnake. According to Chiricahua Apache lore he needs to patch things up with his family in order to cleanse his soul of the snake's poison. At about the same time he shows up at his daughter's door, a band of renegade natives and whites kidnaps Maggie's daughter with the idea of selling her into slavery in Mexico. Maggie must rescue her daughter before the renegades make it to Mexico. The army and the local sheriff are useless, so Maggie, in desperation, turns to her estranged father to help her rescue her daughter, Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood of “Thirteen”). Jones, with his native-taught tracking skills, leads Maggie and her younger daughter, Dot (Jenna Boyd), on the trail of the renegades.

The renegades are led by a powerful shaman, Pesh-Chidin (Eric Schweig of “Skins”), a ruthless killer. It is bad enough that the guy is a killer and a slave trader, but he also has bad teeth and a very scarred face. I guess the idea is to make this guy look really, really evil, so there is no mistaking the fact that this is the bad guy. The bulk of the movie is taken up with the pursuit of the bad guys as they head toward Mexico. Jones tells his daughter that they ought to quit while they are ahead. If she pursues these renegades, he tells her, she may end up losing her whole family, instead of just one daughter. The renegades have superior manpower. At one point in the movie there is a magical battle between Pesh-Chidin and Jones involving some kind of voodoo-like spell cast by the shaman. In part, it is a battle between native religions and Christianity. Religion plays a significant role in the movie.

The story, based on the novel “The Last Ride” by Thomas Eidson (not to be confused with Thomas Edison), lacks suspense and it is slow-moving in places. The acting is fabulous, led by Jones and Blanchett. Both are utterly convincing, even though Blanchett isn't built sturdily enough to look like a real pioneer rancher. She exudes defiance and self-confidence. She refuses to forgive her wayward father. Jones is perfect as a man looking for redemption who looks more Indian than white and more white than Indian. Also appearing briefly in the film is Aaron Eckhart of “Possession” as Brake Baldwin, and Val Kilmer of “Red Planet” as an army officer. Ron Howard's brother Clint plays the sheriff, and his father, Rance, plays the telegraph operator in the movie. The film also stars Jay Tavare as the Apache Kayitah and Simon Baker plays his son, Honesco. The two join forces with Jones' group after the same band of renegades kidnaps Honesco's fiancée. Another star of the film is the beautiful scenery of New Mexico. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino (“Any Given Sunday”) does a fine job capturing the harsh beauty of the location scenery (much of the movie was filmed near Zia Pueblo). The unforgiving desert is a constant presence in the film. Most of the film is in English, although there is some Spanish spoken, and there are considerable passages of Chiricahua Apache with English subtitles.

This is an authentic-looking western which does an excellent job of depicting a specific place and time. It has some pretty good action scenes and there are some interesting characters. However, there is never any doubt as to how this story is going to play out in the end, and there is no real suspense to it. Also, the story meanders along too slowly and drifts off in unprofitable directions, like all that voodoo stuff, which seemed to belong to a different film. The film also has more graphic, cruel violence than is really needed to make the point about how bad the villains really are. That being said, it is still worth watching for the wonderful performances given by Blanchett and Jones and for the striking scenery of New Mexico. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)