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Film Review:The Missing,
Ron Howard, 2003

"You know that Indian name of yours? Wha, what's that, what's that mean?"
Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchet)

"Very hard to translate that."Samuel Jones(Tommy Lee Jones)

"Try it." Maggie Gilkeson

"It means 'shit for luck.'"Samuel Jones


The Missing,Ron Howard, 2003
Cate Blanchett, frontierswoman

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Film Review:The Missing,
Ron Howard, 2003

Great acting forges a strong but negative relationship between the leads as Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchet) blames her father Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones ) for her mother's death, since he deserted the family when she was young. He returns from living with Jicarilla Apaches, looking like one and his attempt to make his peace meets with rebuff. However when one of Maggie's daughters is abducted by Apache slavers she turns to her father out of necessity, and they set out in pursuit.

Salvatore Totino's cinematography is true to the best standards of the Western, in exploiting the rugged territory of New Mexico as a backdrop to an odyssey of struggle and endurance. However the film loses its way in meandering along and the Apaches seem somewhat sanitised and stylised, rather than men used to living rough and living literally on the hoof. This seems odd when there many photographs available on which to base their appearance which would have made them appear more authentic. For these reasons it is a good or very good film rather than a fine film, and my recollection of reading the novel by Thomas Eidson, on which the film was based, was that "The Last Ride" hung together more coherently. Maybe this was due to the commercial need to cut the film down to a marketable length. Nevertheless it does stand as a worthwhile film in which Ron Howard explores familial relationships on one level, but also the meeting of cultures on another. In his exploration of the cultural values he is not sentimental or simplistic and does not have the need to identify either culture as "right", appearing to start from the logical but often neglected truism that just as people's characters are flawed so too are cultural values. The commitment of Samuel to the "medicine" of the Apache healer is contrasted to the healing ability of Maggie, without obviously favouring either.

Comparisons to
'The Searchers' only exist superficially as the rescue of an abducted girl relative is the focus of both, and both fit in to the odyssey type of western against a backdrop of magnificently rugged scenery. Historically both were based on fact in as much as some native American peoples assimilated youngsters to preserve their numbers (The Searchers) while there were instances of children being stolen and sold into prostitution. (The Missing). Certainly Ron Howard wished to promote such speculation by ending his film with the same line "Let's go home" which Phillip French interpreted as homage to the master of the western, John Ford, in probably his finest film.

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Chris Smallbone February 2009

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