The Missing announces its (corporate) intentions right from the start. It takes three minutes of studio logos, backed by reverent, repetitious white noise courtesy of James Horner, before we even get to the opening credits of this offensive, stillborn western. Marketed as a Blair Witch-type horror film, The Missing is actually a racist, crocodile-tear-stained period screed sprung from the “aw shucks” psyche of everyone’s favorite Andy Griffith sidekick, little Ronny Howard. Your warning bell should sound the moment Tommy Lee Jones’s Samuel, looking for all intents and purposes like a sad-eyed, squeezable plush dog, rides into frame in full American Indian garb. Samuel hopes to reconcile with his estranged daughter, Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett), for reasons initially unspecified. The boringly intense Blanchett will have none of it, passive-aggressively letting her live-in lover, Brake (Aaron Eckhart), expel Jones from the premises. But then some mean ol’ Native Americans kidnap Maggie’s eldest daughter, Lily (Evan Rachel Wood), ostensibly to sell her into Mexican slavery. Blanchett will have none of this either, and so sets out on a redemptive rescue with Daddy Jones and so-cute-you-want-to-throttle-her daughter Dot (Jenna Boyd). Along the way, the politically correct The Missing schizophrenically changes gears between domestic melodrama, pseudo-feminist western, and magical-realist fantasy. Howard reveals himself as one of the dullest visual stylists working today; his constant close-ups and simplistic wide-shot symmetry possess none of the ‘scope profundity of John Ford’s thematically similar 7 Women. And Howard’s view of the Indian characters, whether friend or foe, is exoticism at its worst. The white director’s image of another race’s humanity never extends beyond the crude idea of the noble savage. “Who is this smashed penis?” asks a villainous Indian at one point. It’s a question perhaps best directed at the idealist Opie, whose brain is still stuck in Mayberry.
- Ron Howard
- Ken Kaufman
- Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Val Kilmer, Aaron Eckhart
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