THE MISSING tries to be all things to all people and becomes less the sum of its parts. Furthermore, multiple endings don’t achieve a proper climax that would propel the movie past its deficiencies.
As the beginning credits roll, there is Indian chanting in the background. Cut to two ranchers complaining about renegade Indians killing their cow. They mistake a white man who has gone Indian, Mr. Samuel Jones (played by Tommy Lee Jones), as the Indian suspect. Jones goes back to the ranch with them and asks if Magdalene Gilkeson lives there. The handsome ranch hand, Brake, says that she’s a good Christian woman.
Meanwhile, Maggie is doctoring a woman with a tooth infection. She wears a cross and tells her daughter to recite the 23rd Psalm. However, it is soon revealed that she is having an affair with Brake. It is also learned that Jones is her father, whom she hates because he left home when she was a child. They clash in every way. While she prays in the morning, he chants Indian prayers. She kicks him out, and the ranch hands and her two daughters head to town for a fair. When they don’t return, but here daughter’s horse does, Maggie goes looking for them and discovers that they have been ambushed by renegade Indians. The Indians have taken her daughter Lilly to sell into the white slave trade in Mexico.
When she finds out her father had nothing to do with this crime, Maggie tentatively accepts his help. During the rest of the movie, as they pursue the renegade Indians, Maggie and Jones reconcile their relationship.
The renegades are led by a witch. He blows a powder into a photographer’s eyes, which makes him bleed from all his orifices. He gets hold of Maggie’s hair and, from a great distance, casts a spell on her, which almost kills her. In the beginning, Maggie does not believe in witchcraft. By the middle of the movie, she understands its full power and seems powerless in her Christianity to refute it. Only brute force seems to work, although the reading of the “begats” from Matthew seems to have some salutary effect at one point in the movie.
THE MISSING has several multiple endings. It makes it clear that the bad Indians are renegades. Indian scouts are caught between the two worlds. Mr. Jones clearly shows how wonderful the Indian world is. The renegades show how awful they are. There is also unnecessary foul language in English as well as in Indian and Spanish. The violence is unnecessarily brutal at points, to show how rotten these renegades are. Several members of the screening were upset by the violence. When mescaline dust is blown into Mr. Jones’ face, he goes on a Carlos Castenada desert trip and is led by a hawk back to his family.
Most of THE MISSING seems to indicate that the Indian magic is stronger than Maggie’s Christianity, although the ending tips the scales slightly in the other direction. Even so, however, it is brute force that eventually defeats the forces of darkness.
In spite of these shortcomings, the photography in THE MISSING is superb, beautiful enough to make the audience stand up and applaud. The acting and the directing likewise are incredibly professional. It is the script that is weak. Although it may have seemed like a good idea to combine a western with a strong feminist tale, horror elements, and thriller suspense, none of it quite comes together in this stew. THE MISSING should gain some good reviews, but it is not up to the quality of Ron Howard’s previous work.
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Amy Pascal, Jeff Blake, and Yair Landar
Sony Pictures Entertainment
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SUMMARY: THE MISSING combines the western, horror, and thriller genres into a hodgepodge, in a story about a woman, Maggie, who must rely on her estranged father to save her daughter from renegade Indians led by a witchdoctor. It is brute force, not Maggie’s Christianity, which eventually defeats the forces of darkness in this movie, which contains excessive foul language and brutal violence.
(PaPa, Fe, OO, CC, BB, PC, LL, VVV, S, N, A, DD, MM) Strong mixed pagan worldview with post-feminist tone and several attempts to convince so-called Christian about the power of occult Indian witchcraft, with Indian witchcraft displayed on a par with Christianity, and some credit given to Christianity, 23rd Psalm recited, Matthew “begats” recited, two men give their lives for their families; ten obscenities, one profanity and three exclamatory profanities; excessive violence including Indian powder causes man’s eyes to bleed, several scenes where people are beaten to a pulp, man’s torn out heart displayed, rattlesnake venom used to kill people, woman’s tooth pulled, woman operates on gunshot wound, many battle scenes, and images of dead bodies show aftermath of Indian raids; unmarried couple prepares for sex, renegade tries to rape female captive; rear male nudity when a nude body is seen lying face down; alcohol use; mescaline and peyote use; and, girl disobeys mother, women taken as hostages to sell in white slave trade, army and law enforcement shown as ineffective and uncaring, and so-called “good” Christian woman has an affair.