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Tommy Lee Jones,
In 19th-century New Mexico, a father (Tommy Lee Jones) comes back home, hoping to reconcile with his adult daughter Maggie (Cate Blanchett). Maggie's daughter is kidnapped, forcing father and estranged daughter to work together to get her back. Written by
"The Missing", starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, is one of those movies that will come and go without getting noticed by audiences let alone any of the award programs. That's a shame because it's a tightly plotted film with interesting, sympathetic characters in a Western setting, but minus most of the tired Western genre devices.
In "The Missing", Cate Blanchett plays Maggie Gilkeson, a tough, frontier doctor / rancher with two young daughters (played by Evan Rachel Wood and Jenna Boyd), and a farmhand / love interest (Aaron Eckhart) named Brake, who also acts as her family's dedicated protector.
Unexpectedly, her father (Tommy Lee Jones) comes back into her life after abandoning his family years before to live with the Indians. His attempts to make amends for his past mistakes are rebuffed until rogue Indians attack Gilkeson's family and kidnap one of her daughters. Reluctantly, she asks her father to use his hunting & tracking skills to follow the Indians and recover her daughter.
The story in "The Missing" works along two tracks. While following and clashing with the rogue Indians provides ample suspense, action, and peril, the emotional drama between Gilkeson and her father keeps the movie interesting, dynamic, and makes us care about these peoples. For a Western, the film lacks all of the cardboard cutout characters. There are no gunslingers (in the tradition of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns) in "The Missing". The characters are flawed and emotionally vulnerable in their own believable, endearing way.
As a film, "The Missing" also provides a rare, balanced view of Native Americans during the mid 19th century. They are portrayed as neither doe-eyed victims (as in "Dances With Wolves"), nor are they mindless savages (as in almost any John Wayne Western). I will note that Chidin (Eric Schweig), the primary "bad guy" Indian, seems to go a little over the top at times, but this is forgivable given the film's many other strengths.
Suffice it to say that all of the acting is solid. We probably won't see any 'best actor' or 'best actress' nominations, but you never do with Westerns. Blanchett continues to expand her repertoire ranging from eccentric British Queen ("Elizabeth") to destructive bar trash ("Shipping News") with this role. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones continues to be typecast as "the guy who hunts people" which started years ago with "The Fugitive" and hasn't varied much since.
In the end, one of the things I liked best about "The Missing" is the genuine danger for all of the major characters. The film establishes early on that bad things can and will happen to the characters we like the most. As a result, it's impossible to guess who will make it to the end of the story and that means you have real suspense (an increasingly rare occurrence in suspense films).
So, go see "The Missing" while everyone else is piling into the better-marketed blockbusters. You know you'll get both a good seat and a good movie without a lot of fuss.
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