Missing Movie Review

Before there was the Iraq War, there was the Chilean coup. And before there was Daniel Pearl, there was Charlie Horman, who vanished one day in 1973 while it was all going down in a time of serious turmoil.

Like Pearl, Horman was a reporter -- or, at least, he wanted to be one -- which brought him to Chile during the violent upheaval in this troubled South American country. Martial law is in full effect: If you can't tell by the military officials and machine guns on every corner, then perhaps the piles of dead bodies -- some covered, some not -- might clue you in.

Charlie is anxious to get out of the country, but there's work to be done, and it isn't long before Charlie (John Shea) abruptly vanishes from the picture completely. There's no real mystery about where Charlie's gone missing to, which is what makes Costa-Gavras's fine film so heartbreaking.

All of that is really prologue, as the film is primarily concerned with the hunt for Charlie by his wife (Sissy Spacek) and his dad (Jack Lemmon in a career-making dramatic performance). Those of us who've lived through the era of Abu Ghraib already know the drill: The pair will chase endless dead-end leads on the ground in Chile, get the runaround from both the Chilean government and the U.S. embassy, find every glimmer of hope abruptly snuffed out, and face a series of bold lies delivered right to their faces. The film makes its heartbreaking right turn when we finally realize Ed Horman is not looking to rescue his son but rather to recover his body, wherever it might be.

This is all essentially a true story -- though Costa-Gavras admits to taking liberties with the tale -- and in 1982 it made quite the splash in the U.S. Immediately denounced by the U.S. government (the Defense Department's terse response is printed in the insert that comes with the Criterion DVD), the film even drew a libel suit from one of the officials portrayed in the film (it was ultimately dismissed).

26 years later, Missing doesn't make quite the same impact (see also A Mighty Heart, which just didn't resonate the way one might have hoped). I guess we accept that coups and subterfuge are all part of the political game now. Regimes are toppled -- by the CIA or someone else -- and if you're foolish enough to be in the way, well, society seems to think it's OK with the collateral damage.

This isn't a film without flaws. The last half hour of the movie wears you down emotionally and mentally, as scenes begin to repeat themselves to some extent. Spacek is also a bit grating here, having not yet toned down the country yokel routine to more comfortable levels.

But on the whole, Missing is engrossing, fascinating, and endlessly tragic. There have been more powerful scenes in the movies than the one where Charlie hears a noise, walks out on his balcony, and sees a military helicopter hovering there, watching... but few more ominous.

Criterion's two-disc DVD set includes interviews with Costa-Gavras and Charlie's real-life wife, plus many of people affiliated with the story as well as the cast. Declassified documents regarding Pinochet and the 1973 coup are also included and analyzed here.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , Mildred Lewis


Comments

Missing Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1982

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