blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Missing (2003, Ron Howard), the extended cut

There’s a moment in The Missing when Tommy Lee Jones appears to be dead-panning at the camera, clearly as exasperated being in the film as the people watching him in the film. He’s tired because The Missing makes sure to keep him busy, but he easily soldiers on because Jones is in Missing to soldier on. No one in The Missing can be relied upon for anything except Jones. And all Jones promises is not to embarrass himself further than the project’s conceit.

Too bad the conceit is so damning, particularly for Jones.

See, The Missing is about Jones returning to his daughter, played by Cate Blanchett, in 1885 New Mexico. Jones ran off to… join a Native American tribe? It’s unclear. He ran out on Blanchett and her mom and eventually ended up living with various Native tribes, but how they knew he ran off to join up is unclear. Given the thoughtfulness of Ken Kaufman’s screenplay, maybe they thought he jumped on a freight train like he was running off to join the circus.

Jones goes to find Blanchett, so he’s around when she needs an experienced tracker to go find her daughter Evan Rachel Wood, who renegade Indian Scouts have kidnaped. Eric Schweig plays the main villain, a witch. His gang kidnaps young women to sell in Mexico. The calvary is after them—led by Val Kilmer in one of the film’s rare good casting ideas—except the calvary are dipshits, and they’re going the wrong way.

It’s up to Jones and Blanchett to put aside their differences and team up to save Wood, with Blanchett’s younger daughter, played by Jenna Boyd, tagging along. Boyd’s supposed to be precocious. She’s terrible. Blanchett’s supposed to be… well, actually, Blanchett’s not supposed to be anything. Missing is terrified of spending any time with Blanchett, which tracks because her performance is embarrassingly bad, but still. The film’s ostensibly about Jones and Blanchett’s relationship, except the only time they have an honest conversation is like ninety seconds about halfway through the movie and then never again. They have other conversations pertaining to their character arcs, but they’re all bad because Blanchett’s terrible. That first conversation is the only time she actually works at the character.

She’s playing The Woman With No Name the rest of the time. Except she’s got a name. But also has a pretty cool Western wanderer outfit courtesy costume designer Julie Weiss, who’s otherwise just trying to make the Native characters’ costumes as close to cartoonishly racist without some respectability line. Missing thinks it gets a lot of mileage from having Jones culturally appropriating the Native Americans while villainizing the Native Americans who sold out to the white man. It’d be more cringe if the movie weren’t such garbage.

Mostly good photography from Salvatore Totino. Totino has a lot of bad moments, particularly with composite shots, but otherwise, it’s competent work. The editing not so much, but director Howard’s got no ideas for his set pieces, so it’s not the editors’ faults. Not entirely.

James Horner’s score is repetitive but has its moments. At least until the end of the second act when it craps the bed and basically sits out all the moments the film needs it in the third act. The music’s never good, but at least it seemed professional. Not in the finale.

The Missing seems like someone’s very bad idea for Oscar-bait, not realizing Jones wasn’t going to make a part for himself and Blanchett wasn’t capable of holding an accent, much less making up for zero character development. Sure, it’s about Blanchett never giving up on daughter Wood, but only after all the men who care for her fail her.

There are some abysmal performances in the film besides Blanchett and Boyd, like Aaron Eckhart, who is so bad he makes Blanchett look good. Eckhart’s utterly inept in the film—it’s not his fault; he’s just so obviously miscast it’s silly. It’s director Howard’s fault. Lots is Howard’s fault.

Sergio Calderón’s bad. Ray McKinnon’s awful. Max Perlich’s bad.

Wood’s okay. The movie spends a lot of time with her in the second act because it’s an excellent way to avoid character development for Blanchett, and Wood’s got some good scenes. Unfortunately, the movie gives her some really lousy material for the third act.

The Missing’s tedious and terrible.

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