The Missing is the story of Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett), a young woman raising her two daughters in an isolated and lawless wilderness. When her oldest daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by a psychopathic killer with mystical powers (Eric Schweig), Maggie is forced to re-unite with her long estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) to rescue her. The killer and his brutal cult of desperados have kidnapped several other teenage girls, leaving a trail of death and horror across the desolate landscape of the American Southwest.
Cate Blanchett blazes through The Missing, a new Western directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13). The camera truly loves the planes of her face; even dusty and bedraggled, she radiates star power—which is good, because The Missing needs it. When her daughter is kidnapped by renegade Indians, Maggie Gilkeson (Blanchett) is forced to turn to her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black, The Fugitive), a man who abandoned her as a child to join an Indian tribe. Together, they pursue a malignant brujo (or witch), who sells young girls in Mexico. The Missing features solid supporting performances from Evan Rachel Wood, Eric Schweig, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, and feisty young Jenna Boyd as Maggie’s youngest daughter Dot, who refuses to be left behind. Despite the cast and some gorgeous cinematography, though, The Missing never finds its stride. —Bret Fetzer
Barnes and Noble
The movie western’s regeneration continues apace with this Ron Howard-directed opus, a well-acted, suspenseful drama that bears an unmistakable resemblance to John Ford’s The Searchers. Like Ford’s film, The Missing is animated by the lengthy, dangerous pursuit of Native Americans who have kidnapped a white girl. And like The Searchers’ Ethan Edwards (played so unforgettably by John Wayne), the chief pursuer is a taciturn loner with intimate knowledge of his quarry. He’s Tommy Lee Jones, playing a half-wild “squaw man” who long ago deserted his family and slaked his wanderlust by traveling with peripatetic Indians. Now older and somewhat remorseful, he attempts reconciliation with his firstborn daughter (Cate Blanchett), a single mother raising her two girls and eking out a precarious living on the edge of the New Mexico desert. It takes the kidnapping of her eldest daughter to unite the bitter woman with her grizzled father, who offers to trail the abductors. Howard’s direction is taut; his scenes all have bite, and he maintains a measured pace while slowly building to a crescendo of violence and retribution. A novel touch is the incorporation of Native American mysticism, which is presented as both real and horrifyingly effective. This element brings a bit of the supernatural into The Missing, creating an aura of mystery and uncertainty that may well unnerve attentive viewers. Jones and Blanchett are equally terrific in their portrayals; formidable talents both, each shines in scenes crafted to showcase them individually while working harmoniously in their scenes together. Howard also elicits solid performances from Evan Rachel Wood as the kidnapped daughter and Jenna Boyd as the younger, more resourceful daughter. Aaron Eckhart registers solidly in a sympathetic role as Blanchett’s prospective suitor, and Val Kilmer has an eccentric cameo as an ineffectual cavalry officer. Howard borrows not only from The Searchers but from other classic westerns as well, and yet his film doesn’t play like a pastiche of reworked concepts and scenes. It is a cohesive work with a demonstrably individual perspective, and an absorbing contribution to the western’s ongoing renaissance. Ed Hulse
The year is 1886 and old Samuel Jones, broken in body and soul, has ridden hard to reach his daughter’s remote New Mexico ranch—ridden hard so that he can die there. But Maggie Baldwin, grown and with children of her own, wants nothing to do with this man who abandoned her and her mother thirty years earlier to live with the Indians. Nothing, that is, until renegade Apaches shoot Maggie’s husband and kidnap her oldest daughter. Then she has no choice but to ride with the dying father she detests in a desperate attempt to rescue her child before the girl disappears forever into the vast twilight land of old Mexico.