A Western drenched with mystery, action, suspense and the supernatural, The Missing is a blend of almost every conceivable Hollywood genre. The result is a gripping and haunting tale featuring one of the most chilling and bloodcurdling movie villains of all time.
The world of Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett), a young medicine woman raising her two daughters in an isolated area of New Mexico in the 1880s, gets turned upside down when her child is kidnapped and her estranged father, Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), comes back into her life. After leaving his family years ago to live with an Apache woman and her people, Samuel has reassessed his life and now wants to make amends with Maggie, who wants nothing to do with the father who abandoned his family decades earlier. But when Maggie's oldest daughter, Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood), is stolen by a brutal band of desperados, she realizes that her father is the only person able and willing to risk his own life to help save the girl. As Samuel, Maggie and her youngest daughter Dot (Jenna Boyd) set off across the American Southwest to find Lilly, they inevitably grow closer. But while Dot is excited to know her Apache grandfather, Maggie has difficulty reconciling her feelings of resentment with her newfound respect for him. Lilly, meanwhile, tries to devise her own means of escape from the clutches of Pesh-Chidin (Eric Schweig), the cold-blooded Indian mystic leader of the murderous band and undoubtedly one of the most terrifying movie villains ever.
The powerful performances in The Missing turn this already suspenseful story into a truly intense film. Leading the way is Blanchett as Maggie, an intelligent and incredibly tough woman who swallows an intensely bitter grudge against her estranged father in order to save her daughter. Blanchett is able to convey her character's emotions without ever having to say a single word: In the scene in which Maggie sees her father for the first time, Blanchett's facial expression and body language suggest a bad history before it's even laid out. Jones' portrayal of Samuel, on the other hand, is the opposite. His face is always stern and he looks unsympathetic, but he still shows that behind this icy exterior is a warm and truthful individual. But one of the most surprising performances in the film comes from Boyd in the role of Dot, a young girl with a rather old soul. Boyd portrays her character as a bright and clever little girl without oozing cuteness or being too smart-alecky. And although Schweig doesn't get too much screen time as the evil brujo (witch) Pesh-Chidin, the actor, with his spine-chilling stares and wicked snarl, is by far the scariest son of a bitch to hit the big screen in a long while.
Director Ron Howard's The Missing, a suspense thriller wrapped in a Western, has a very interesting look. Shot in New Mexico, the film initially has a bluish, icy-cold feel to it, which reflects the chilly animosity Maggie feels for her father. As Maggie and her family leave the snowy woods and head south across the desert towards the Mexican border in search of Lilly, the landscape becomes warmer, almost red-looking, a reflection of the heated battles and bloody confrontations between Maggie, Samuel and the band of renegade rogues. The film's visual appeal is matched by the story, a character-driven script devoid of the macho elements that often plague Western pics. Although Howard does fall prey to some stereotypical native Indian hocus-pocus, it's refreshing that the leading women in the film are not all victimized by men but are strong and independent individuals. But the film's dramatic elements are offset with the introduction of the slimy Pesh-Chidin, a pockmarked Apache who tortures and kills people using spells and mystical powers. Howard helps makes this nasty character even scarier by shrouding him in mystery, only showing quick glimpses of him and not fully explaining his powers and their origins.
Ron Howard's The Missing is an intense and character-driven Western that evenly blends mystery, action, suspense and the supernatural to buck the clichés normally associated with that genre.