While not exactly ecstatic about it, Judge Patrick Naugle doesn't quite relegate this movie to the place where you'll find your missing socks, pens, and Amelia Earhart.
How far would you go and how much would you sacrifice to get back what you have lost?
The year is 1885 and it's the wild frontier. On a small homestead, a widowed doctor named Maggie (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) lives with her two children—Dot (Jenna Boyd, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star) is a spunky tyke, while Lily (Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen) is a more sensitive teenager. Maggie lives on the farm with a hired hand (Aaron Eckhart, The Core), who is sleeping with her but never stays in her bed (she wouldn't want to give everyone the wrong idea). When Maggie's deserter father-turned-Indian, the craggily Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive), shows up on her doorstep, he is angrily turned away. But Maggie will soon find that she needs her estranged father's help more than ever when her oldest daughter Lily is suddenly kidnapped by renegade Apache Indians led by a vile witch doctor named Chidin (Eric Schweig). Maggie, Dot, and Samuel suddenly find themselves trailing the Indians in a desperate bid to buy back Maggie's daughter before she's taken over the Mexican border and sold to unscrupulous bidders looking to use her as a slave.
I'm sure there was a lot of pressure on Ron Howard when The Missing was released in 2003. Howard's previous film was A Beautiful Mind, and since it took home the coveted Best Picture Oscar in 2001, The Missing—like most follow-ups to major award winners—was going to pale by comparison. That's a shame, since while The Missing isn't "destined to become a classic" (as the back of the case touts), it's most certainly an entertaining cowboy thriller that sports Tommy Lee Jones doing…well, his patented Tommy Lee Jones stuff.
There isn't a whole lot going on in The Missing—the plot of the movie boils down to Jones and Blanchett tracking Indians in an attempt to rescue Blanchett's kidnapped daughter (played without much excitement by Evan Rachel Wood). The film consists of numerous shoot-outs, Indian witch doctors blowing red and green dust into innocent folk's faces, and a lot of horses galloping through wide-open country. While there isn't much to this fairly simplistic tale, I have to admit that I enjoyed it almost the entire way through.
The performances are all well executed, especially Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Jones, A.K.A. Chaa-duu-ba-its-iidan (his Indian name, literally meaning "actor who is paid much for starring in big budget film"). Jones is one of the most reliable actors in Hollywood. No matter what film you see, if Jones is in it you know the whole shebang is going to be raised up a few notches just by his presence (well, except for the dreadful Batman Forever). Jones plays an old Indian/white guy who spends much of the film squinting a lot and looking very tired/contemplative/thoughtful—but hey, he does it with style. Blanchett is effectively tough as Maggie, a woman who will stop at nothing to retrieve her child (and who among us would act differently if placed in her situation?) The most chilling performance is by Eric Schweig as the terrifying Indian witch doctor holding the girls captive. His hulking frame moves with lightning speed, making for a formidable villain for Jones and Blanchett.
Ron Howard is a filmmaker of staggering intelligence and talent. He's been able to make us laugh (Night Shift, Splash), cry (Parenthood), and bite our nails until they were nearly stubs (Ransom). With The Missing, Howard has crafted a movie that is pure popcorn entertainment, and little else—but does that always have to be a bad thing?
The Missing is now part of Columbia's highly touted Superbit line. Once again, the bitrate on this disc is higher than a normal DVD, mostly because the extra features from the previous release have been left off the disc. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, its original aspect ratio. I have not seen the previous disc's transfer, though if it's anything like the Superbit edition I'm sure it looks great. The colors are all vibrantly rendered without any bleeding or dullness. The black levels are all solid and dark. Dirt, grain, and other imperfections are noticeably missing, making for a near perfect picture. While the only people who will see the difference between this release and the previous DVD are those with really high-end equipment, those with a taste for the expensive will be interested in picking up this disc. The rest of you can stick with the original release.
The soundtrack is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as DTS Surround, both in English. I must say that I found the 5.1 mix to have a slight advantage over the DTS track—for some reason the Dolby 5.1 sounded better on my home theater system. However, both of these tracks should please audiophiles alike—there are a great many surround sounds to be found here. Both the front and rear speakers are engaged readily and often, making for a fine home theater experience. Also included on this disc are English, Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai subtitles.
On par with almost all of the other Superbit DVDs, The Missing doesn't feature a single solitary extra feature.
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