The Missing

The Missing

2003, R, 130 min. Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Eric Schweig, Aaron Eckhart, Jay Tavare, Simon Baker, Sergio Calderon.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 28, 2003

It somehow feels right that the actor-turned-director Ron Howard, who co-starred in John Wayne’s final movie, The Shootist, helms this new Western. Not only is there the matter of cultural legacy, but also the underlying knowledge that The Missing turns out to be the movie Howard made instead of directing The Alamo, the much-storied epic that was filmed this year in the Austin area. Although Howard’s parting from The Alamo was amicable and due to differences in matters regarding tone and budget, it’s clear from The Missing that ideas about the Old West were still rattling around in Howard’s head. He puts them to good use in The Missing, a tough family drama and action film set in the American Southwest circa 1885. It’s impossible not to notice in The Missing a touch of The Searchers, John Ford and John Wayne’s indelible Western about an ex-soldier who spends years tracking his young niece who was abducted by Indians. In The Missing, Tommy Lee Jones plays a man coincidentally named Jones, who long ago became estranged from his family when he left the community of white settlers and "went Indian." After a couple of decades living among the Apache, Jones returns to visit his grown daughter Maggie (Blanchett), but she is bitter about the past and steadfastly rejects her father’s reappearance in her life and his attempt to woo her with cash. Maggie is an interesting character and certainly a rarity in classic Westerns. She is a doctor and a single woman with two daughters by two different fathers, who also has a conjugal yet unmarried relationship with a man (Eckhart) who makes it clear that the choice not to marry is not his. It is only after a crisis during which Maggie’s older daughter Lilly (Wood) is abducted by a band of outlaws led by Pesh-Chidin (Schweig), a psychopathic killer with mystical powers, that Maggie relents and accepts the assistance of her father. And even then, she takes his help only because the U.S. army (led by Val Kilmer in an extended, uncredited cameo) is unwilling to help her search for her daughter. The cast is uniformly terrific: Blanchett as a frontier woman with real grit, Jones as the ineffable "stranger" teetering between two cultures, and Schweig as the truly scary brujo who’s heading to Mexico to sell his stolen white girls into sexual slavery. The movie loses some of its momentum due to some obvious instances of foreshadowing and a couple of unnecessary forays into magic and mysticism, which only makes the point that whether you wear beads or a cross around your neck, these items are but cultural totems. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino makes great use of the wide screen to relate the area’s desolation and the distances among characters. But this effect may also be disconcerting to some viewers who find unresolved issues to be unsettling. Ron Howard, however, has delivered a movie that’s a big departure from his recent films. We may not remember him for The Alamo, but we're glad he kept the Stetson.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Ron Howard
Opie on Top
Opie on Top
AFF to honor Ron Howard's extraordinary contribution to filmmaking

Kimberley Jones, July 14, 2009

More Ron Howard Films
Rebuilding Paradise
Ron Howard hides an eco-warning in the story of the Camp Fire inferno

Steve Davis, July 31, 2020

Pavarotti
Ron Howard's documentary shows the great tenor in all his humanity

Steve Davis, June 21, 2019

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The Way I See It
Portrait of presidential photographer Pete Souza has depth but lacks focus

Sept. 18, 2020

Our Time Machine
Stunning documentary about puppetry, art, Alzhiemer's, and a son's love

Sept. 11, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Missing, Ron Howard, Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Eric Schweig, Aaron Eckhart, Jay Tavare, Simon Baker, Sergio Calderon

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle