Sunday, July 28, 2013

movie review: Missing

Missing (1982)
France
Directed by Costa-Gavras
USA


Missing is based on the true story of Charles Horman, a freelance American journalist living in Chile with his (also American) wife when General Augusto Pinochet bombed the president's palace and carried out a coup d'etat. The country was thrown into violent chaos; curfews were implemented and anyone on the street during curfew could be summarily shot. The military terrorized civilians by patrolling the streets with tanks and machine guns, constantly shooting into crowds. They carried out random arrests, torture, and executions. Many years later, it was officially confirmed that thousands of people had been rounded up and executed in Chile's national stadium.

Six days after the coup, Charles Horman disappeared.

The movie centres around Horman's wife, Beth (Sissy Spacek), who is still in Chile trying to get some answers about what has happened to her husband, and Charles' father Ed (Jack Lemmon), who has flown to Chile from the US after getting nowhere with government representatives back home. The real strength of Missing is the relationship between Beth and Ed, which starts out as tense and mildly combative (Ed thinks Beth and Charles are irresponsible, paranoid "anti-establishment" types; Beth thinks Ed is rigid, judgmental, and hopelessly naive about what the US is really up to in Chile). Over the course of the film, as Beth and Ed fight their way through a gauntlet of evasive, prevaricating American officials, they form a bond over their shared love of Charles and their surprisingly similar passion for justice. Ed begins to understand what the US has really been doing in Chile, and starts to suspect that the American officials not only know more than they were letting on but may in fact be partly responsible for Charles' disappearance.

Spacek and Lemmon are powerful, subtle actors who have instantly believable chemistry as father-and-daughter-in-law. Although Spacek was actually in her early 30s when this was filmed, she looks fragile and delicate and more like someone in her early 20s. However, we (and Ed) soon realize that even though the violence she witnesses affects her deeply and terrifies her, she has an iron strength and the power of her unshakeable convictions to help her continue. As for Lemmon, director Costa-Gavras explained in later interviews why he wanted to cast him over other actors better known for dramatic roles: Lemmon is vulnerable and humane, and, despite his reputation as a comedic actor, able to give a subtle performance of a man who has a strong faith in his country and its leaders, but finds out to his horror that his beloved America may have betrayed him most cruelly.

Costa-Gavras does a beautiful job of filming the chaos in the streets--his simple but effective framing and sharply focused soundscape (there is very little non-diegetic music, for example, but the sounds of gunshots echo in the background of nearly every scene) serve the narrative very well and give it the feeling of a stark, sombre documentary film.

If you are looking for an intelligent, engrossing film that is not an easy watch but definitely a satisfying one, I recommend Missing.

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