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MISSING

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea
Director: Costa-Gavras
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008

ďYou Americans, you always assume you must do something before you can be arrested.Ē

Film ***1/2

I was way too young to understand the significance of a film like Missing at the time of its release. But as time went by, I heard more and more about the Oscar winning film and I grew interested about the subject matter. Iíve finally seen it, and itís one of the most absorbing politically themed films Iíve ever seen.

Itís clear that filmmaker Costa-Gavras, known for tackling intense political subject matter, aimed to make the sort of film no one else dared to make about the firestorm surrounding American policies in Chile. Though it is never fully revealed that the story takes place in Chile, the true story on which itís based has informed us that already. Though it may not be relevant to todayís political climate, the story is undoubtedly important to remember.

The story centers on the disappearance of American journalist and documentary filmmaker Charles Horman (John Shea). He had been living in Chile for quite some time, along with wife Beth (Sissy Spacek), for the purpose of living amongst the people and gather information in order to write a childrenís book. But an intense breakout of civil war, as well as martial law, results in the manís disappearance.

At the heart of the story is the relationship that builds between Beth and the missing manís father, Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon). Itís every bit interesting to see this relationship build due mostly to the fact that the father had never spoken to the son in so long. The estranged relationship resulted mainly from opposing political views; the son being a liberal and the father being a conservative christian scientist.

The filmís narrative is structured in way that was very rare for an early 80s film. As the father and daughter-in-law are investigating Charlesí possible abduction, intercut are the final exploits of the journalist prior to his disappearance. This storytelling structure was intriguing at least to me, since I had no what the outcome of this story was.

The movie is purposefully frustrating, simply because the more and more the father and wife investigate, the more dead ends they run into. Then it becomes possible that the American embassy in Chile, who is supposed to be the most cooperative, might have had a hand in the disappearance of the journalist. And though this is a devastating experience for Ed and Beth, it does manage to bring them close together and put their political beliefs aside, though by the end of the film one could argue that Ed goes through a prolific change.

The film garnered four Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), and ended up wining the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. And though he didnít stand a chance to beat out Ben Kingsley for Best Actor that year, Jack Lemmon really gives one of his most revealing performances ever. It was a firm reminder of how versatile he was as an actor, since most of us remember him more as a funnyman.

Being a sucker for politically charged films, it wasnít hard for me to become absorbed by a film like Missing. But for film lovers, the movie is indeed something special in that it blends both a dramatic and documentary feel to the material. And in both aspects, the film delivers in extraordinary form.

BONUS TRIVIA: Well, just for fun, but this PG rated film happens to contain two f-bombs, some harsh and realistic violence, and even slight nudity. Hard to remember what you could get away with back in 1982.

Video ***1/2

Criterion delivers another fantastic looking piece, proving that they can work magic on a film no matter what the age is. The anamorphic picture and restored high-definition transfer is crisp and clear and immense in detail, allowing the setting of Chile to appear more authentic than ever. Some softness here and there but nothing that even begins to distract. An all around phenomenal job that only the likes of Criterion could deliver.

Audio ***

Criterion also demonstrates that they can make the most of limited audio. The Dolby Mono mix works quite well for what is mainly a dialogue-oriented piece. But the authentic setting, once again,  is what plays into the power of the presentation. The chaos of the civil war in Chile makes the most of what dynamic background sound we get, which is very impressive. The moody score courtesy of the great Vangelis is another grand part of the presentation.

Features ***1/2

The words Criterion and two-disc release should be enough to indicate the superb quality of extras here. Disc One includes the movie and Theatrical Trailer.

Disc Two includes some truly fascinating bonus material, starting with Video interview segments with Costa-Gavras, Joyce Horman (wife of Charles Horman), producers Edward and Mildred Lewis and Sean Daniel, and Thomas Hauser, author of ďThe Execution of Charles HormanĒ (The Filmís Source), as well as  Video interviews from the 1982 Cannes Films Festival with Costa-Gavras, Jack Lemmon, the real Ed Horman, and Joyce Horman, as well as a video interview with Peter Kornbluh, author of ďThe Pinochet FileĒ. Also featured are highlights from the 2002 Charles Horman Truth Project event honoring Missing, with actors Sissy Spacek, John Shea, and Melanie Mayron, among others. Lastly, thereís a top-notch booklet featuring a new essay by critic Michael Wood, an open letter from Horman family friend Terry Simon, an interview with Costa-Gavras, and the U.S. State Department's official response to the film.

Summary:

Missing is a truly gripping a political thriller, as well as an absorbing character study. The great performances from Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, and the remarkable work of filmmaker Costa-Gavras blend together to make a most powerful film that you wonít soon forget after watching.

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