Tommy Lee Jones …. Samuel Jones
Cate Blanchett …. Maggie Gilkeson
Evan Rachel Wood …. Lilly Gilkeson
Jenna Boyd …. Dot Gilkeson
Aaron Eckhart …. Brake Baldwin
Val Kilmer …. Lt. Jim Ducharme
Sergio CalderÃƒÂ³n …. Emiliano
Eric Schweig …. Pesh-Chidin a.k.a. El Brujo
Steve Reevis …. Two Stone
Jay Tavare …. Kayitah
Simon Baker …. Honesco, Kayitah’s son
After his night of Oscar glory with A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard planned a follow-up by remaking a huge Western that had previously starred John Wayne. That movie was to be his take on The Alamo. Rumors swarmed as the possible casting of Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe for the leads made fans giddy. Upping the ante were Howard’s comments about wanting to make a violent and realistic picture, as if this were his own personal Wild Bunch. Unfortunately, Disney baulked at the idea and went on with their own PG-13 version of The Alamo, which immediately sank into a box office dud.
Instead, Howard ended up making The Missing, which was pseudo remake in its own right. A basic reworking of The Searchers (one of Howard’s favorite movies), the director’s eventual Oscar follow-up was met with apathy upon its release. With mixed reviews and lackluster box office, its easy to call The Missing a failure, but closer examination reveals a film with which Howard took great pride in. In this new Extended Cut, featuring 17 minutes of extra footage, we get to see even more homage to the great Western works of the past, while trying to tell a very accurate and modern Western tale.
Cate Blanchett stars as Maggie Gilkeson, a woman fending for herself and her two daughters in frontiers of 19th century New Mexico. Early on, you can see the character in this woman as she helps those in need of assistance without receiving payment. Her independence is apparent, as she has ranch hands, but no husband, even though she has secret liaisons with one named Brake (Aaron Eckhart).
This really is a wonderful character for Blanchett. Maggie is a woman that has had to deal with the anguish of losing her family and her husband. It is hinted at that Maggie’s first child was even the result of a sexual assault, which brings a quiet sadness to the picture. She keeps others at a distance and nurses a hurt that has been festering since childhood. When her father, Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), shows up out of nowhere, the wound seems to burst open.
This type of tortured soul seems to come very naturally to Jones, and here he relishes the role. This Extended Edition really seems to flesh out this character well. Samuel seems to have been some sort of aristocrat, who was trained in the arts in New York City before settling down with his family in New Mexico. Only he wasn’t able to settle down. One day he was gone, running off with Chiricahua Apache tribe, and leaving Maggie with her mother and small brother.
Many times, a back-story like this will seem forced or contrived, but not here. By leaving this subplot vague, Howard is able to keep an air of mystery between these two like a wall. Every now and then we get a small chunk of the story, but only enough to keep us interested. There is a subtlety with these main characters that is not always found in Howard’s work.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for The Missing’s villains. A band of Native Americans, kidnapping young women to sell over the Mexican border, are the heavies of the pictures. They are lead by the really evil and imposing El Brujo (Eric Schweig). He’s a pretty despicable bad guy, but he’s also a bit of a cartoon. With all the deep characterizations that go into the main characters of this piece, it’s a shame the villains are only two dimensional.
When one of Maggie’s daughters is kidnapped, the divide between the doctor and her father must close in hopes of bringing the child home. This journey encompasses most of the film’s running time, and Howard is able to pull it off with flare for the most part. There are absolutely stunning backdrops, that would make John Wayne and John Ford proud. There are also plenty of shootouts and horseback chases to get most Western fans’ adrenaline pumping. What’s also nice is the postmodern sensibility of the picture, as The Missing stays away from the very “clean” look of vintage Westerns, leaning more towards the muddy brutality of Unforgiven.
There are sequences that fall flat, especially a rescue attempt late in the movie that threatens to sabotage the entire experience dramatically. It’s a little difficult to like Evan Rachel Wood’s whiny Lilly Gilkeson, as she isn’t given enough development to care whether she gets away from these slavers or not. If it not for the superior turns of Jones and Blanchett, the film may have lost all of its dramatic tension.
For what is it, The Missing is an entertaining movie that deserved a better reception than what it initially got. This is a movie that was made with great reverence for its genre by its director, and provides an entertaining few hours. While the movie isn’t anywhere near the best Western made in the last few years, it is a handsome one and worth checking out.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 7.5/10
TOTAL POINTS: 36.5/50
FINAL MOVIE SCORE: 7.5/10
The print on this DVD is quite good, especially during the film’s desert locations which are really beautiful. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The audio track is also good, with James Horner’s score coming in crystal clear. The track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary, Interview, Short Films.
Audio Commentary by Director Ron Howard – This commentary track is a fairly entertaining one, with Howard never letting a moment of silence go by. He’s very informative about the production of the movie as well as little bits of info about his stars. The director seems especially enamored with star Tommy Lee Jones, which he says was almost another historical consultant on the picture due to his extensive knowledge of the time period.
Ron Howard On… – This is a six part interview with Director Ron Howard where he talks about his love for Westerns and also speaks about the short film’s he made as a film student that starred his dad and other family members. The most interesting part features Howard reminiscing about John Wayne, with whom Ron Howard acted with on the Duke’s last picture, The Shootist. This is a decent feature, but really too short.
Three Short Films – These are three silent short films entitled The Deed of Daring Do, Cards Cads Guns Gore and Death, and Old Paint. Each was shot by Ron Howard in college that stars his family members in different Western roles. Each is really clichÃƒÂ©d, but show the enormous talent of the film maker even here at a young age.