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The Missing
cast: Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd, Evan Rachel Wood, and Val Kilmer

director: Ron Howard

131 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Columbia Tristar DVD Region 2 rental or retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emily Webb
Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) is a young plainswoman raising her daughters in the desolate wilderness of New Mexico. Her estranged father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) is mistaken for an Indian when he shows up on her property hoping for reconciliation after he abandoned his family years earlier to adopt a Native American identity. Maggie sends him away, but when psychotic Apaches kidnap eldest daughter Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) along with a group of other young girls to sell as slaves, a desperate Maggie turns to her father for help.

Director Ron Howard presents us with a wrenching family drama that unfolds in the midst of a classic 1880s' western with the unusual feature of having a female as the hero of the day - in this case a brilliant Cate Blanchett who is expert in playing independent, strong-willed women on the screen (Elizabeth, Charlotte Gray, Veronica Guerin).

I am not a fan of westerns at all; this genre prejudice on my part means that I have never seen classics like Once Upon A Time In The West or The Magnificent Seven but I gave The Missing a look because the cinematic trailer was gripping and it stars Cate Blanchett (I am an Australian and we Aussies always support our own. Until, of course, they get to big for their boots and become, what we call Down Under, 'Tall Poppies'. Thankfully, Blanchett has never shown signs of this.)

The film is stunningly shot and Ron Howard's love of the genre is evident from his wide, sweeping shots of the New Mexico landscape. (One of Howard's first films he made as a child - a western - is featured as an extra on the DVD with Howard speaking about where his love of westerns sprang from and how this influenced the making of The Missing.) Blanchett brings intense realism to her role as Maggie, who is desperate to save her daughter, and newcomer Jenna Boyd, who plays Maggie's youngest girl Dot, is a precocious talent in the same vein as Haley Joel Osment, who stunned cinemagoers in The Sixth Sense. (Let's hope her career doesn't flatline once she hits puberty and is no longer cute. Did anyone see Secondhand Lions?)

There are also brief appearances from Aaron Eckhart as Maggie's ranch-hand and lover, Brake, and Val Kilmer as apathetic Lieutenant Ducharme, whom Maggie pleads with to find Lilly before the band of violent Apaches escape across the border. As I am a fan of Eckhardt, I was disappointed that he makes such a brief appearance. Eric Schweig as Chidin, the outlaw leader, gives a suitably menacing performance; there is a very clear moral message in the film and Chidin is the evil contrasting with Maggie's God-fearing righteousness.

That brings me to Tommy Lee Jones. This film is quite clearly a vehicle for its two stars but while Blanchett is wholly believable in the role of Maggie, Tommy Lee Jones' performance smacks of sentimentality, and I never really felt comfortable watching him. Like many actors, Jones plays himself in every role he tackles and, whilst he's watchable as Maggie's father Sam, Blanchett gives the stronger performance in this film.

The DVD is rich with extras including three alternate endings, a director's commentary, 11 deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and three short films of Ron Howard (made when he was a young teen). These present an interesting insight into Howard's filmmaking process. And, as with all Howard films, it's a family affair; his strange-looking brother Clint makes an appearance as a sheriff (I don't think he'd have an acting career if it wasn't for Ron) and dad Rance as a telegraph operator. The disc has Dolby digital 5.1 sound, plus English and French subtitles.

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