By: Erik Swift
It’s tempting to say that something is missing from “The Missing,” Ron Howard’s western that Columbia Pictures recently released as a two-disc collector’s edition DVD. After multiple viewings, it’s not the waste of time “Open Range” was. Based on Thomas Eidson’s novel “The Last Ride,” the film disappeared from theaters after only a few weeks during a crowded holiday movie season. “The Missing” is not a bad effort – but it could have turned out better.
Set in 1885 on the vast plains of New Mexico, Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a single mother that provides for her two daughters and a pair of ranch hands with her medical practice. Her long-lost father Jones (Tommy Lee Jones, ha) pays an unwelcome visit and Maggie tosses him off her land. The next day she is forced to seek his help when her eldest daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood, fresh from “Thirteen”) is kidnapped by a rogue band of Apaches. After abandoning both his family and his native heritage years earlier for the Apache lifestyle, Jones knows the Indians are heading south to the Mexican border to sell Lily and other women and children into slavery. Jones bridges his personal gap between the races and takes Maggie and his youngest granddaughter Dot (Jenna Boyd) on a hunt for Lily.
“The Missing” can be as slow and difficult to follow as the trail of the Apaches. An unnecessary flood scene should have been on the cutting room floor and has zero impact on the rest of the story. The film is also saddled with an uneven blend of the spiritual and supernatural aspects of Native American culture. Eric Schwieg’s Chidin is not very believable as an Apache witch with inexplicable power. Owls and countless mystical shots abound so often, I expected Val Kilmer to appear in full Jim Morrison attire singing “Riders On The Storm.” When Kilmer shockingly does appear, he’s invisible under a beard in US Calvary uniform, Doc Holliday accent intact.
“The Missing” improves when the Apache tribe has the spotlight, and its sweeping cinematography recalls the average John Ford western, giving the film a grand aura not seen often anymore. Ron Howard has a gift for extracting natural humor from the actors he directs, and Jones evokes subtle laughs when his character interacts with old Indian friends. The cast is a worthy one – Blanchett, Boyd and Wood are tough cookies in a genre that rarely features strong independent women. Their collective acting talents are put to the test here, and they pass. Blanchett’s scenes with Jones stand out. A pro team to watch, their expressions speak silent volumes about the pair’s strained relationship whenever they share the frame.
The DVD extras can be more fun than the film itself. An educational segment on Apache language training taught by Cochise’s great-granddaughter and a better-than-average outtake reel are the best features on the bonus disc, but it’s comforting to know that my student films are better than Ron Howard’s (three are included). Only a pair of the 11 deleted scenes merit viewing, and thankfully none of the cheesy alternate endings were used. Overall, “The Missing” is a decent production – but after it’s over, you’ll feel like something more.