When an idealistic writer disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile, his wife and American businessman father try to find him.
Year 1, Day 342
BEFORE: After some great comedies this week, I’m starting off the weekend with a drama, Missing. Starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek (both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances), this film is based on a true story involving foreign politics in the 1970s. After seeing Argo (whose events took place in the 1980s), I’m very excited to see how this plays out.
AFTER: Much of what I have to say about Missing relates to its ending. While I won’t explicitly state and specifics, what I do say may give you a good idea of what happens. This is my warning and if you don’t want to be even slightly spoiled, just jump on down to the last paragraph for my general thoughts and recommendation. Before you jump ahead though know that even being aware of the ending won’t necessarily ruin the film. Yes, my remarks will be about the end but there’s a lot more in the film leading up to the end. But again, fair warning, you make your decision.
Alright, let’s talk. You may have noticed in recent reviews (Star Trek Into Darkness being a prime example) where part of my disappointment stems from the move having a happy, or a positive ending. Everything may not have turned out great but for all intents and purposes, not much went wrong. Now I’m not saying I like sad, or negative, endings or would even want them for all films. What I am saying is that I think there are too many positive endings and every once and a while there should be a negative one; it mixes things up, keeps the audience on their toes. If everything always works out for the best there’s no room for surprise. Well, and this is the semi-spoiler, Missing has a negative ending. There is very little that goes right for the two main characters, Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon) and Beth Horman (Sissy Spacek). It’s very sad and upsetting to see what happens. And while it may not be the most fun thing to watch, especially on a rainy day like today, at least it’s honest. It shows a side we typically don’t see much in film; the side where things aren’t a fairy tale.
While I’m a big fan of the ending and the courage of the filmmakers to make a film like this, as I said before, it isn’t the only part of the film. There are a few things that are done well and a few that aren’t. Something that hurts the film is that what is going on isn’t very clear. A title at the beginning says the names have been changed to protect the innocent (Dragnet anyone?) but it seems like a lot of other details were covered up or just plain omitted. About all you know for sure is that there’s a coup in Chile and it’s dangerous everywhere you go. You don’t know why there was a coup, who was overthrown, who is now in command, or who is safe. I don’t expect it to be a history lesson but there are a lot of little details left unanswered or answered too late in the film to help gain an understanding. The other downside to the film is it’s use of flashbacks. I found it interesting the way they were used more as illustrations of events witnesses were recounting instead of more typical flashbacks, but here interesting is not a good thing. Like not really knowing what is going on, these flashbacks/illustrations were more confusing than they were enlightening. I always felt as if the transitions between them were too abrupt which led to thinking something was happening in the present when it really wasn’t.
At the same time, a lot of this confusion is alleviated by the end. I won’t go so far as to say I absolve the film from it’s lack of clarity, but by the end it doesn’t matter so much. You get so caught up in the final act and the consequences of everything that has happened that the build up to all of that fades away a bit. It’s still there and it’s still confusing, but it takes the back seat.
Something that was great throughout was the acting, well Jack Lemmon’s performance in particular. The rest of the cast did a fine job but no one could match the wonderful Jack Lemmon. He plays Ed Horman, father of the missing Charles Horman (John Shea), with such strength yet vulnerability. Both sides are always present in him and Lemmon does a great job at knowing when to show each one. There are times where his strength and authoritativeness strike fear into those around him and then there are times where his vulnerability and his concern take over. One of the best scenes takes place in the U.S. Embassy where Ed is explaining to the ambassador what he wants done and what he will do to make it happen that shows both sides at once. Suffice it to say, it’s an extremely powerful scene.
If you skipped ahead, you can start reading again. It’s spoiler-free from here on out. Missing is a film that does some things differently. In many ways I not only admire that, but think it works extremely well. But not all of it does. Some parts aren’t explained clearly enough and just confuse you more than is needed. This film has a certain mysteriousness to it but confusion and mystery are not the same thing. While I very much enjoyed the film and would recommend that you give Missing a shot as well, it isn’t a film that you need to rush and see. It’s great, but it’s not spectacular.
RATING: 3 out of 5