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6 items from 2003

The Missing

8 December 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Something's missing in "The Missing".

Director Ron Howard's follow-up to his Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind" after he parted ways with "The Alamo", this murky, thriller-tinged Western has the terrain down cold -- from the wide-open spaces to the rocky vistas -- but beneath all the requisite genre trappings there's a vast, empty gulch where the affecting dramatic element should have been found.

Based on the novel "The Last Ride" by Thomas Eidson and adapted by Ken Kaufman ("Space Cowboys"), this story of a frontier doctor who is reluctantly reunited with her estranged father after her teenage daughter is abducted by a treacherous Apache more than slightly recalls the 1956 John Ford classic "The Searchers", but the derivative aspect isn't the major culprit.

Even with the ever-reliable Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones on hand, the picture seldom feels like anything more than a ride through a Western town set -- it's all rickety facade and scaffolding.

Although Columbia Pictures' marketing has wisely been playing up the thriller element in its TV ads and Howard's name carries some well-deserved weight, "The Missing" still looks to be a tricky sell, especially if it can't bank on year-end critic kudos.

Set in the untamed American Southwest circa 1885, the film wastes no time in establishing its unsettling tone as local healer Maggie Gilkeson (Blanchett) extracts an old woman's rotting tooth.

Soon after, a grisly, long-haired stranger called Jones (Jones) rides into her family's homestead seeking treatment. It turns out the visitor is none other than Maggie's father, who had abandoned her and her mother 20 years earlier to go and live among the Apaches.

The resentful Maggie wants to see neither hide nor ponytailed hair of him, but the two must become allies when her daughter Lilly Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by the psychotic Pesh-Chidin (Eric Schweig), a spell-casting brujo, or male witch, who snatches teenage girls and sells them into Mexican slavery.

Of course, the ensuing trek to rescue Lilly -- in which they're accompanied by her younger sister, Dot (Jenna Boyd) -- is really about things like tolerance and reconciliation, and not just between father and daughter.

Wanting to have its politically correct cake and eat it too, Kaufman's annoyingly black-and-white script, with its borderline cartoonish characterizations, seems to be saying all Indians aren't bad ... but some are really, really bad.

Handed those sorts of archetypes, Blanchett and particularly Jones do what layering they can, but their characters haven't been given enough complexity to keep the viewer involved. With even less to work with, the supporting cast (which also includes Val Kilmer in a cameo as an Army lieutenant) are saddled with whatever version of good or evil they've been assigned.

Having always wanted to do a Western, Howard makes sure to get everything in, right down to the flaming arrows. And while he and cinematographer Salvatore Totino take full advantage of their New Mexico locations, very little of it carries any emotional weight despite the constant tug of composer James Horner's "Titanic"-sized score.

In the end, while Blanchett's Maggie comes back with what she was looking for, as well as something that she didn't know she had lost, the film emerges disappointingly empty-handed.

The Missing

Columbia Pictures

Revolution Studios and Imagine Entertainment present a Brian Grazer production in association with Daniel Ostroff Prods. A Ron Howard film


Director: Ron Howard

Screenwriter: Ken Kaufman

Based on the novel "The Last Ride" by: Thomas Eidson

Producers: Brian Grazer, Daniel Ostroff, Ron Howard

Executive producers: Todd Hallowell, Steve Crystal

Director of photography: Salvatore Totino

Art director: Guy Barnes

Editors: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill

Costume designer: Julie Weiss

Music: James Horner


Samuel Jones: Tommy Lee Jones

Maggie Gilkeson: Cate Blanchett

Lilly: Evan Rachel Wood

Dot: Jenna Boyd

Pesh-Chidin: Eric Schweig

Brake Baldwin: Aaron Eckhart

Kayitah: Jay Tavare

Honesco: Simon Baker

Emiliano: Sergio Calderon

Lt. Jim Ducharme: Val Kilmer

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time -- 130 minutes


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Howard's 'Missing' in Berlin fest competition

1 December 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

COLOGNE -- Ron Howard's dark western The Missing is one of the early selections for competition at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, scheduled to kick off in February next year, organizers said Monday. The film, which stars Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, was one of five competition entries announced by Berlin Festival director Dieter Kosslick. Also in the running for the 2004 Golden Bear will be Nightsongs, from German director Romuald Karmakar; Your Next Life, from Spain's Manuel Gutierrez; Croatian entry Witnesses, directed by Vinko Bresan; and In Your Hands from Danish helmer Annette K. Olesen. "[The entries] range from tragic love story to political psychodrama, from historical thriller to intimate family saga," Kosslick said, adding that the combination of Oscar-winning director Howard and art house favorites such as Gutierrez and Karmakar were a guarantee for "a versatile program, both in theme and style." »

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Archer joins 'Cheer' squad at Revolution

25 September 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Anne Archer has joined the cast of Revolution Studios' Cheer Up, which is being directed by Stephen Herek. Production is set to begin Oct. 6 in Austin, Texas, with Brian Van Holt, Paget Brewster and Shea Whigham also starring. The comedy centers on a hard-edged Texas Ranger (Tommy Lee Jones) who is forced to go undercover as an assistant cheerleading coach to protect a group of college cheerleaders after they witness a murder. Archer plays a college professor who is Jones' love interest. Holt (Black Hawk Down) plays an FBI agent, and Whigham (Tigerland) plays Jones' fellow Texas Ranger. Brewster has been cast as Binky, the enthusiastic cheerleading coach. The film is being produced by Steven Reuther, Todd Garner and Allyn Stewart. Archer, whose credits include Rules of Engagement, Patriot Games and Fatal Attraction, is repped by Writers & Artists Agency. Holt is repped by CAA, while Brewster is repped by UTA and the Burstein Co. Whigham is repped by the Gersh Agency and Original Entertainment. »

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Revolution adds five newcomers to 'Cheer' squad

12 September 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Vanessa Ferlito, Paula Garces, Kelli Garner, Monica Keena and Christina Milian will star as a group of cheerleaders opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Revolution Studios' comedy Cheer Up for director Stephen Herek. Production is slated to begin next month in Austin, Texas, with Shannon Marie Woodward also starring as Jones' daughter. Cheer is about a hard-edged FBI agent (Jones) forced to go undercover as an assistant cheerleading coach to protect a group of college cheerleaders after they witness a murder. Stephen Reuther and Allyn Stewart are producing Cheer, which was written by Rob Ramsey, Matt Stone, John J. McLaughlin and Scott Lobdell. »

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Revolution gives 'Cheer' a home

2 May 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Revolution Studios has picked up Bel-Air Entertainment's action comedy Cheer Up, with Tommy Lee Jones attached to star and Stephen Herek directing. The project was originally set up at Warner Bros. Pictures but was put into turnaround. Now at Revolution, it reunites Jones with the studio with which he is in production on The Missing for director Ron Howard. Cheer sees Jones star as a hard-edged FBI agent forced to go undercover as an assistant cheerleading coach to protect a group of college cheerleaders after they witness a murder. Steven Reuther is producing the project, with Allyn Stewart co-producing. Rob Ramsey and Matt Stone are rewriting the material, which was originally picked up as a spec script by Bel-Air a year and a half ago from writer John J. McLaughlin from a story by Scott Lobdell (HR 9/24/01). Jones came aboard in July, with Herek boarding a month later (HR 8/15). The project was brought to Revolution partner Todd Garner by Reuther and will be overseen by Derek Dauchy. »

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The Hunted

14 March 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Opens Friday, March 14

"The Hunted" is about as basic as a chase movie gets. Tommy Lee Jones, a retired teacher in survival and assassination techniques, is called in to hunt down Benicio Del Toro, a former pupil gone bad. Jones hunts Del Toro down. Government operatives let him escape. So Jones hunts Del Toro again and the two fight to the finish. By stripping an action thriller this close to the bone, director William Friedkin has removed too much meat. Because these two guys intrigue an audience, especially given the relative nature of good and evil in their mano a mano conflict, one feels cheated by the movie's relentless drive to oversimplify the narrative. The urge is strong to cry out: Where's the rest of the movie?

The film's bloody action includes enough knife fights and suspenseful tracking sequences to hold its mostly male target audience. Del Toro should create female interest in the movie as well, so Paramount can expect above-average results. But they missed out on a classic thriller when Friedkin and writers David and Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli decided to cut to the chase and leave the potential for thematic complexity to the audience's imagination.

In a sense, this is a bold movie. Friedkin wants us to read volumes into the film's silences, into the men's physical movements and eye contact with each other. But in an action movie, this is asking too much even of actors this talented. We sense their connection but have no idea how they feel about each other.

In long-ago training sessions, Jones' L.T. Bonham turned Del Toro's Aaron Hallam into a killing machine. Yet L.T. has never harmed a fly. Hallam has killed so many at the behest of the U.S. government that he has lost all sense of moral control. Each gets an opening "credentials" sequence: In 1999, Hallam slips into the nighttime chaos of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and without being seen or heard swiftly kills a murderous Serb officer. In the British Columbia wilderness, L.T. tracks down and gently heals a wolf wounded by a hunter's snare.

Four years later, Hallam is stalking and butchering hunters in the Oregon forest. The FBI calls in his teacher to track him down. Does L.T. feel any guilt? Does Hallam? Might not L.T. empathize with Hallam to the point he really doesn't want to kill him? Why is he so willing to kill a pupil for a government that has exploited them both?

Their brief, tenuous scenes together fail to answer any of these and so many more questions. A young woman (Leslie Stefanson) and her child are part of Hallam's world, but how they are involved is anybody's guess. A glimmer of a relationship develops between L.T. and an FBI agent (Connie Nielsen), but the movie has no time for that. What it does have time for are absurdities.

Hallam escapes from gray-suited government operatives in Portland. The city, L.T. remarks earlier, is a wilderness, and the movie means to prove his point. As if he were back in British Columbia, L.T. tracks Hallam through the city's tunnels, artificial waterfalls and riverway -- much of this implausible, to say the least. An elaborate sequence on the Interstate Bridge, where Hallam is exposed to SWAT sharpshooters for minutes but emerges unharmed, stretches things even further. But the final absurdity comes when the two men stop their hunt to give us a primer in turning urban debris into flint and steel weapons. OK, Hallam must do so since he has no weapon. But can't L.T. just grab a good hunting knife?

Their one-on-one fight is well-choreographed and contains visceral tension. This is a far cry from the martial arts follies in most action movies. But the stakes aren't high enough. Instead of two guys struggling to kill each other, we should sense their ambivalence. Truffaut once said Hitchcock filmed his murder scenes like love scenes. That should be the case here.

Fine location work by a superb crew -- cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, production designer William Cruse and costume designer Gloria Gresham -- adds compelling elements to the chase. Augie Hess' razor-sharp editing lets the movie flow gracefully.


Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures in association with Lakeshore Entertainment a Ricardo Mestres/Alphaville production


Director: William Friedkin

Screenwriters: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli

Producers: Ricardo Mestres, James Jacks

Executive producers: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Marcus Viscadi, Sean Daniel

Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel

Production designer: William Cruse

Music: Brian Tyler

Co-producer: Art Montersatelli

Costume designer: Gloria Gresham

Editor: Augie Hess


L.T. Bonham: Tommy Lee Jones

Aaron Hallam: Benicio Del Toro

Abby: Connie Nielsen, Irene: Leslie Stefanson

Ted: John Finn

Moret: Jose Zuniga

Van Zandt: Ron Canada

Dale Hewitt: Mark Pellegrino

Running time -- 94 minutes

MPAA rating R


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6 items from 2003

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