Missing (USA, 1982)

Missing Criterion DVD Costa-GavrasDirected by: Costa-Gavras. This was another one of those fortuitous meetings of myself, the public library, and Criterion, without all three of which, I never would have found this movie. It’s apparently a true story, and apparently a pretty faithful one—the family members depicted here cooperated with and endorsed the film from production to promotion (which is pretty remarkable). But ultimately, it’s a great 70’s (1982, but in my mind, still very much of that tone) political thriller with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek—what more do you need? Those two give one of the best non-romantic relationships in cinema that I’ve seen, and watching their attitudes to each other change and build in such a natural and organic way is truly refreshing. I recognized John Shea from his role as Lex Luthor in the 90’s Superman TV show that I used to watch religiously, and it’s a damn shame I don’t recognize him from much else. He’s really strong in this role, giving the character enough depth but also enough mystery to keep you engaged with the two leads for the majority of the film—you really want to know why he’s missing! I could go on a diatribe about the fact that the director was a French guy with European sensibilities instead of an overblown, sentimental American Hollywood director, but I’ve done that before, and it’s a pretty obvious point to make anyway. What I will say is that without someone like Costa-Gavras, someone willing to treat the subject matter obliquely but also unforgivingly realistic in tone, stepping back but not slacking off, this film would never have gotten to be this good. That metaphor shot of the single white horse being chased down the street by the maniacal jeep full of soldiers is a truly striking and memorable cinematic image. If any film can give me that, I’m basically satisfied. This film is a great piece of cinema, and if the hype is to be believed, it’s also a great piece of artistic/interpretive journalism. Of course, if you’re really interested in the American-backed coup of Chile—sometimes called the “first 9/11”—you should probably read up on it rather than watching a film. But if you feel lazy, I’d definitely endorse this thing over some hokey History channel “documentary” any day. This little art film probably has more truth in it, and it’s definitely prettier.

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