Director Ron Howard
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood
Film **** Extras ***
Ron Howard’s eager-to-please enthusiasm has yielded some of Hollywood’s fluffiest confections, and even when he’s delved into shadier territory, as in A Beautiful Mind, it’s always with one eye firmly on the box office. So it’s rewarding – and startling – to see him unleash his dark side to powerful effect in The Missing.
It’s a shame, but less surprising, that moviegoers turned their noses up at this stark, brutal Western, in which Cate Blanchett’s eldest daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) is snatched by a slave-trading Apache witch-doctor. Blanchett deliversher customary rock-solid performance as ferociously self-sufficient frontier rancher Maggie Gilkeson, while Tommy Lee Jones, playing her estranged, gone-native poppa who’s now attempting reconciliation with his stern, resentful daughter, is equally impressive. They form a memorably tense alliance, setting out on a Searchers-echoing quest to save Lily from her kidnappers.
Howard fumbles the final action scenes, but his love of Westerns pays dividends throughout, with majestic imagery, beautiful landscapes and a plot that sidesteps the genre’s hoarier clichés. Deserves to blaze a trail on DVD.
No Ron Howard commentary; instead we get the director spouting off his gee-whizz gusto for all things celluloid in bite-sized interviews on editing, Western conventions, etc. Of these, the best is Howard yakking about three Super-8 shorts he made as a teenager, also included here. “I’m pleased that The Missing was not relying on any of the clichés that I embraced in my high-school Westerns,” he chuckles. The three precocious mini-Westerns star Howard’s bug-eyed sibling Clint, an ugly blighter who still gets featured parts in all his older brother’s movies. Aside from that, there are a few deleted scenes, some outtakes and a pair of alternate endings, one of which has more emotional resonance than the cut Howard opted for. Overall, a dusty package.