* (out of 5)
November 26, 2003
Tommy Lee Jones as SAMUEL JONES
Cate Blanchett as MAGGIE GILKESON
Eric Schweig as CHIDIN
Evan Rachel Wood as LILLY GILKESON
Jenna Boyd as DOT GILKESON
Aaron Eckhart as BRAKE BALDWIN
Clint Howard as SHERIFF PURDY
Directed by: Ron Howard
BY KEVIN CARR
I knew it was a bad sign when I saw the trailer for “The Missing” and figured it would be a lame redux of so many kidnapping thrillers, only set in the American west. If only “The Missing” was what I saw in the trailers. At least the trailers teased me with a tight (although unoriginal) suspense flick. What I got was a monotonous, dreary, wretched kitchen sink drama from post-Civil War New Mexico.
Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a reclusive doctor tending a farm in 1885. She has two daughters (Evan Rachel Wood and Jenna Boyd), a farm hand and a live-in boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart). One day, her long lost father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), who had left her family to live with the Indians, shows up. Unable to forgive him for abandoning her and her mother, Maggie sends him away.
Days later, Maggie allows her daughters to travel to the nearby town and expects their return by nightfall. When they haven’t returned by the next morning, she goes out looking for them and finds their camp. The men are dead, the youngest daughter is hiding in the woods and her eldest daughter has been kidnapped by renegade Apaches who plan to sell her into prostitution slavery in Mexico.
Maggie seeks help with the local sheriff (Clint Howard), but he wants to wait for the army. Desperate, she comes crawling to her father, who has spent the night in the jail for drunken behavior. He reluctantly agrees, and they embark on an arduous trek to rescue her daughter from the bad guys, who also happen to be practicing black magic.
“The Missing” is a truly awful movie in every sense of the word. The writing is plodding and sloppy. The acting is on autopilot. The direction is weak. The score, composed by James Horner, sounds like themes and snippets he cannibalized from his score for “Braveheart.”
This film is hardly politically correct, which is nice since I despise political correctness. They use the term “Indian” exclusively, which is entirely accurate for the film’s time frame. Additionally, the kidnapper’s leader (Eric Schweig) is an Apache. Yet the film can’t resist stepping on a soap box and throwing digs at the Americans settlers. Nowhere is this more arrogant and annoying than when the Army shows up (led by Val Kilmer in a completely pointless cameo) and exudes nothing but disrespect and dishonor.
This film was so bad that I found myself laughing through serious scenes and desperately resisting the urge to walk out. It kept me guessing, but not in a good way. I kept guessing when the pain would end. There are no less than three false climaxes which only lead the characters to further stupidity and silliness.
Ron Howard should be ashamed of himself for putting together such a worthless stain on celluloid. He’s so much better than this. Once a fabulous director (with films like “Backdraft,” “Far and Away” and “Apollo 13”), Howard has fallen into mediocrity with films like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “EdTV.” Yes, I know that he won an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind,” but considering his downward spiral since 1996, that might have been a fluke.
Howard stoops to such lazy and shameful cliches as having the heroes’ ambush location revealed by a glint of sun on binoculars, Maggie accidentally leaving her hairbrush behind so the villains can put a curse on her and Maggie sterilizing a wound with whiskey before taking a huge swig herself.
Tommy Lee Jones’ performance is nothing short of embarrassing. Playing a white man “gone Indian,” he starts some lines with the beginning of a lame Indian accent (which is supposed to be Apache, but sounds more like a poor Tonto impression), but even before the entire line is out, he loses it. Jones’ ability to form a coherent accent is on the level of Julia Roberts’ humiliating Irish/English/Scottish/American/Jamaican accent in “Mary Reilly.”
Additionally, Jones doesn’t go very far outside of his standard box of tricks for this role. The man can act, but it seems that director Ron Howard didn’t demand much from him. Think Sam Gerard from “The Fugitive” with long hair, and you’ve got Samuel Jones. In fact, he so abandons the art of acting that I kept expecting to hear him bark, “Search every gas station, residence, warehouse, outhouse, doghouse and henhouse!”
“The Missing” deals with some truly depressing and painful subjects, like kidnapping, rape, murder, slavery, forced prostitution, the death of children and torture. As if these weren’t bad enough, the bad guy is an evil Apache sorcerer, which makes a mockery of the true crime elements. Would this film have been better if it stuck with reality? Probably not. But the supernatural element made the film just plain silly.