Script: Costa-Gavras, Donald Stewart, John Nichols
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, David Clennon, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Richard Venture
Running time: 122 minutes
The story of Missing can be nicely summed up by the IMDB line: When an idealistic American writer, Charles Horman (John Shea), disappears during the Chilean coup d’état in September 1973, his wife, Beth (Spacek), and father, Ed (Lemmon), try to find him. However, while the ‘plot’ of this true story is interesting stuff, at its heart Missing really concerns a father’s journey of discovery about his son and himself.
Based on the book, Missing, by the real father, Thomas Hauser, this Hollywood version is still very much a white knuckle ride in tension, particularly during the early scenes of the coup itself, featuring Charles’ and Beth’s scary experiences in amongst a dispassionate military who are taking over a country, literally overnight. The middle section, which sees Beth and Ed get together and learn to work together, is somewhat slower and less interesting, but then the film’s story ‘journey’ ramps up considerably during the final act as we’re exposed to the true horrors of the Chilean coup and the American Government’s complicity in what went on behind the scenes.
The film is shot, at times in an almost documentary style and must be one of the earliest examples of the docudrama sub-genre of films that have become more popular throughout the years. It’s well shot and makes use of some great Mexican locations, standing in for Chile, and a ton of extras – where do all those people come from?
Director Costa-Gavras manages to capture the sheer randomness of civil war very well, lending an, at times, surrealness to proceedings, particular early on as, just like the main protagonists, we’re trying to make head or tail of what’s going on. Even small moments within the movie draw out a sense of extreme tension, where seemingly random conversations among strangers in a café might result in the execution of one of the unwitting participants.
Perhaps my favourite moments within the film are some great dialogue scenes between Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon who really shine in their respective roles of Beth and Ed. Most of the time they’re at loggerheads with one another, but as they slowly come to understand and respect each other then we see them both for who they truly are, as flawed and complicated people, sharing the same immediate goal – to find a cherished loved one under horrendous circumstances. In fact, I would go to say that both Lemmon and Spacek give two of their best performances out of two already wonderful careers full of equally amazing performances.
I’ve deliberately avoided going into the story details too much since if you’re unaware of the case, haven’t read the book yet, or already seen the film, it’s best to go in blind (well, in the metaphorical sense, at least!) and experience the father’s search for his missing son right alongside him, both the ups and the downs.
As political drams go, Missing is up there with the best of them and maintains a currentness that some other political thrillers haven’t managed to do. And, looking around us on the world stage, one can easily imagine that a similar scenario might sadly reoccur elsewhere tomorrow, or, if not tomorrow, very soon. A scary thought…
Powerhouse Films are distributing Missing on Blu-ray and are to be commended for their excellent transfer of the film. Extras on the disc include:
A Guardian interview with Costa Gavras – Derek Malcolm questioned Costa about his career back in March 1984. The interview does cover Missing and explains why Gavras wanted to film the book. The interview takes a bit of a nose-dive later when they get distracted talking about French politics. Yawn!
A Guardian interview with Jack Lemmon – Theatre director, Jonathan Miller, chatted to Jack Lemmon about his career back in September 1986. Again, the interview does cover Missing with Jack revealing that he didn’t really have any time to prepare for playing the character as he usually liked to do. It was his idea, for example, for the father to wear a hat for most of the time. Unfortunately, much of the interview is taken up by discussions around the acting process, which can get a little repetitive.
Costa Gavras: Cannes film festival interview (3 mins) – The French interviewer goes on about symbolism a bit too much here!
Costa Gavras: Journal Antenne 2 interview (3.5 mins) – A more insightful interview which feels a little strange due to the physical distance between the journalist and Costa.
Many Americans (31 mins) – Another French language interview with Costa where he reveals that he came up with the initial screenplay for the film himself, and that it was a 12 week shoot in Mexico. We also learn that Lemmon was quite a shy man.
Freedom of information (27.5 mins) – Probably the most significant interview on the disc, this interviews the real wife of the missing American, who was there with her young husband for 18 months before the coup. She reveals that the American Government never investigated their case and that she’s still learning of new information from Chile all these years later! Really interesting stuff…
An original theatrical trailer (3 mins) – A strong and emotive trailer.
Image gallery – 26 photos from the film, including posters.