***1/2 (out of four)
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***1/2 (out of four)
Adapted by Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart from Thomas Hauser's non-fiction book documenting the true case, the plot focuses on American expatriate Charles Horman whose sudden disappearance in the days after the Pinochet coup brings together two familial adversaries, his wife Beth and his father Ed, who has flown in from New York. Charles and Beth had been leading a vagabond existence with his work in children's animation and their relatively passive support of Allende's reform measures. Charles' back story is revealed in carefully constructed flashback episodes that show him to be curious about the presence of U.S. military personnel in the area. Once he disappears, Ed and Beth seek help from the U.S. Consulate but face a seemingly insurmountable wall of bureaucracy. Frustrated, Ed, a highly conservative Christian Scientist, lashes out at Beth for what he considers her undesirable influence over his son. However, as they absorb the scope of the violence and the culpability of the U.S. government, they bond intractably toward their objective of finding Charles.
For once, Jack Lemmon, unafraid to convey his character's prejudices, is able to use his neurotically coiled energy in a suitable dramatic role as Ed. The result is a startlingly raw performance that ranks among his best. Sissy Spacek is terrific as Beth, though her character does not experience as big an arc of self-revelation. In the elliptical flashback role of Charles, John Shea provides solid support, as do Janice Rule as a political activist and a number of familiar TV faces - Melanie Mayron as friend Terry and David Clennon as U.S. consul Phil Putnam, both from "thirtysomething", and Joe Regalbuto, Frank from "Murphy Brown", playing another Frank, a possible victim of the coup. There are unfortunately no extras with the 2004 DVD.
"Missing" is a powerful, fascinating movie that captures the hypocrisy and hubris of certain elements of US foreign policy and the reaction of the innocent public who get run over by such policies with searing clarity.
Jack Lemmon was never better in a dramatic role than in this film, to my mind. The neurotic tics and flip outs that he typically used in a dramatic role are restrained or non existent and his performance is perfect as the upstanding citizen who slowly comes to the realization that his own country, which he loves profoundly, likely had a hand in the death of his only son. Very, very impressive performance from an old pro.
Sissy Spacek as his daughter in law is also very good. I find her utterly believable in her role. She exudes a complex blend of strength, kindness, love and cynicism without ever having a false note. Very good as well.
The two leads are important, well casted and well acted, but the movie wouldn't work without the assorted cast members who play the US embassy officials. Exuding exactly the right amount of bureaucratic indifference disguised with polite helpfulness, shady sleaze wrapped in procedural rituals and ultimately, blatant ruthless expediency, all while making casual jokes, this collection of good old boys do a perfect job and are a chilling bunch.
I note as well that the film has aged very well. The styles are 70s but the film has taken on more of a documentary feel with the passage of time instead of that 70s flashback feel you get from other thrillers set in that period.
In addition, the direction is more focused and the story telling better than in some other films of a similar nature (I am thinking in particular of Syriana).
Bravo. A great film. Watch it. And then wonder if anyone has learned anything in the 35 years since the events documented went down.
MISSING is sad, scary and heartbreaking...directed, with his usual gravitas, by Costa-Gavras
His father Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon), a conservative businessman from New York, arrives in Chile to seek out his missing son with Beth. He goes to the American Consulate to meet the Consul that promises the best efforts to find Charles while the skeptical Beth does not trust on the word of the American authorities. The nationalism and confidence of Ed in his government changes when he finds the truth about what happened with his beloved son.
"Missing" is one of the most powerful and sharp films of the cinema history and a must-see for people of my generation, raised in military dictatorships in South America sponsored and trained by the US Government. After more than thirty years from the first time I saw it, "Missing" is still impressive, with top-notch performance of Jack Lemmon. The first work by Costa Gravas in the American cinema could not be better, exposing the hidden wounds about the participation of the American government in Chile bloodshed.
Unfortunately and surprisingly this film has only been released on VHS many years ago in Brazil and I had to buy an imported DVD to change the media. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Desaparecido" ("Missing")
Inspired by the disappearance of a young American during the coup, the film lacks moral complexity, but finds an admirable audience surrogate in the boy's Republican father, who is slowly educated in the imperialist hypocrisy of American foreign policy when he repeatedly encounters ambassadorial lies concerning his son's death Most affecting is the evocation of a country under martial law falling apart at the seams: shots ring in the night, a white stallion gallops through the curfew pursued by a truck full of trigger-happy soldiers
Not surprisingly, Costa-Gavras' "conjectural" film provoked the wrath of the US State Department
He does this by dramatising the real-life story of one of their number, Ed Holman (Jack Lemmon), a businessman from New York and a crusty Christian Scientist with faith in Truth, into the aftermath of a military coup in an un-named South American country the capital of which is called Santiago. (I think we can safely assume the country is Chile, though the locations appear to be Mexican.) His son Charles (John Shea), a vaguely left-wing journalist and writer, living in the city with his wife Beth (Sissy Spacek), has disappeared after being arrested a few days after the coup and carted off to a makeshift concentration camp in the National Stadium. Initially, Ed believes the people at the American consulate and embassy really are there to help him, but it soon turns out they have an agenda of their own. Ed and his son's wife start out on bad terms but Ed comes to appreciate her bravery in the face of a very unstable situation. He also comes to realise the moral worth of his son, who he had previously regarded as a bit of a playboy, much as he had loved him,.
An almost surreal feature of the movie is that people behave almost normally despite the obvious signs of murder and mayhem going on in the background. In fact the only time the `comfortable classes' are disturbed is when there is an earthquake affecting Ed's Santiago hotel. Otherwise, the guests are happy to watch from the upstairs terrace the military killing people in the streets. Of course General Pinochet still has considerable support in Chile, and in August 2000 your reviewer witnessed a large demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Santiago against a decision lifting the Life Senator's immunity from prosecution. It was a very well-dressed crowd.
Ed's odyssey through hospitals, morgues, police stations and the National Stadium is intercut with flashbacks which make it plain enough what has happened. Yet in classic thriller fashion we are kept on the edge of our seats with what will happen next. Politics aside, this film succeeds as a thriller involving believable people rather than stereotypes. Jack Lemmon gives the dramatic performance of a lifetime as Ed, the fuddy-duddy who really does care and leaves no stone unturned to find the truth.
Nearly 30 years later, Chile has a democratic government, Pinochet is too infirm to stand trial, Nixon is dead and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is an elder statesman on the celebrity circuit. The only communist regime in Latin America, Castro's Cuba, is still there. This film reminds us that immoral policy, whether or not it achieves its objectives, remains immoral. The fact that US foreign policy is regarded as being in the interests of the United States does not make it more moral, even if you happen to be a citizen of that country, where as Ed reminds us at the end, remains one in which you can at least sue for justice. Sadly, Ed did not succeed.
The film itself remains a gripping eyeopener from first to last. Costa-Gravas is especially good at recreating the abject terror of fascist rule: where long hair is forbidden and women are forced back into skirts, where people are present one minute and gone the next, where a democratically elected government is present one minute and gone the next, and where a Henry Kissinger can do the behind-the-scenes dirty work and be honored for it (not in the movie, but true nevertheless). The acting is first-rate, and a tour-de-force for Lemmon in particular. Ditto, the often overlooked Charles Cioffi who puts the real chill in the confrontation scene. Two complaints: the arch symbolism of the riderless white horse conflicts with Costa-Gravas's documentary approach, and why, oh why, did they have to make Horman's son so cuddly. The audience gets the point without spooning on the sugar. Anyhow, this remains a fine piece of revelatory film-making and retains as much relevancy for today's audience as it did twenty years ago.
In September 1973, Ed Horman lost his only son and went on a long and difficult journey to find him.
Within 50 years, 2 similar incidents happened in America, how's that even possible!?
"Missing" was released in 1982 while "Changeling" was released in 2008. I watched both of them yesterday. After watching these 2 movies, my condolences for the Hormans and Mrs. Collins were indescribably strong; and my anger for the corruptions within the various governments can't be described using words. Even until now, I'm still so angry and "amazed" by how pathetically corrupted the law and government can be.
No doubt that "Missing" was, is and will still be one of the most powerful and influential political thrillers ever! As usual, Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek gave stunning performances. The movie kept me in suspense until the very end. Despite the movie's length, the perfectly crafted dialogue and incidents kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire 2 hours.
This Oscar-winning movie remained as one of Hollywood's best thrillers. 10/10, worth- watching as long as you're not easily bored.
In Chile, the invisible hand of America in the coup is proved : from Nixon : « if we let potential leaders in south America think they can move like Chile, we will be in trouble. No impression should be permitted in Latin America that they can get away with this, that it's safe yo go this way ». from Kissinger : « Isn't that something ! isn't that something ! I mean instead of celebrating, in the Eisenhower period, we would have been heroes. We didn't do it. I mean we helped them ». So, as shown in the movie, their two framed portraits in all American offices has great meaning. In all cases, this helpful supervision is clearly explained and the puppet masters are famous : one was behind another famous coup and the one is a younger deep throat.
I think that the casting of Jack Lemon was best (and worthy of his award in Cannes Festival) because he is indeed the embodiment of the true, candid American. So his search for his son would turn also a a search for truth and his evolution is moving. The Vangelis' score fit this dark and sad reality of loving ones facing an abusive administration. So i recommend this movie and also the book « untold history of the united states » that was very helpful to understand our long time friend overseas.
Aesthetically this film is very impressive. The narrative build up is both subtle and intense. The conclusion is a tragic let down - which may make many uncomfortable about the film. But it as about a real historical tragedy, one that challenges some fundamental assumptions of the principles of American democracy. Objectively, this is true story with artistic embellishments for narrative purposes only - it tells no lies. So objectively and aesthetically it is an impressive film.
But it is in the field of morals and politics that this film really shines. This is about Allende, a person who embodied almost a Jeffersonian style of democracy; popular democracy, locally organised. Yes, he was a Marxist, but also a person who had included the national liberation orientation of Boliviar, but also, as mentioned, the Jefferson notion of democracy. Allende _believed_ in democracy. He _believed_ that you could be elected, the State would say, "OK, because we're fundamentally a democracy and so are you so we'll let you implement a socialist economy". Of course, he was wrong and it fundamentally challenges one's belief in the democratic system being a government "of the people, for the people and by the people".
Oh, the book is better. Much better.
In his American works,while continuing his militant way,Costa-Gavras puts men and women made of flesh and blood on the screen:Jack Lemmon,who made us laugh so many times in Billy Wilder's masterpieces("some like it hot" "kiss me stupid" "the apartment",the highly underrated "Avanti"),shines in his dramatic part;his portrayal of an all-American man,proud of his country,who cannot really understand the evolution of the new generations but who knows that he's got only one son,whom he might never see again,is mind-boggling:his tired and sad face,always seeming on the verge of tears ,mainly in the second half of the movie which contains two classic scenes:
-The first one takes place in the stadium,where the prisoners are gathered;he's given a mike ,but a lump comes to his throat and he hands it to Sissi Spacek -who plays (with talent) the missing son's wife -;In the giant stadium,no echoes ,even when Lemmon,in a desperate call,asks his son to come home.
-The second one takes place in some kind of morgue,where dead bodies pile up.The wife and the father really go to hell,in this almost unbearable scene.
The Putsch (Costa-Gavras takes the American intervention for granted whereas there's nothing that proves it)takes a back seat to the desperate couple's plight.
Costa-Gavras has not completely forsaken France though:the book Spacek and Shea are reading is none other than Saint-Exupery's "le petit prince".
Directed by Costa-Gavras, Missing is a film that seems to care more about informing the world of this gross injustice, rather than do anything particularly entertaining for it's audience. Opening with the statement that the events of the film are true and left unchanged, there is certainly an air of importance added to their search, always leaving the audience aware of the real life consequences of this crime. It's a condemnation of government and negligence, much like Gavras' earlier film Z, but it's much more about the emotional conflict of Ed Horman than it is about trying to thrill it's audience.
Beth and Charlie were idealists, some could even say radical liberals, but Ed was a very conservative man who shunned their attacks on the government. He was a man who believed in what his nation stood for and through the beginning of the film he is constantly giving them the benefit of the doubt, trusting that they are not being lied to. The brilliant evolution that occurs in this film is in the way that Ed slowly comes around more to Beth's way of thinking; they start off on opposite sides but gradually come together as he begins to form a distrust in the U.S. government in Chile and a rage inside of him grows.
Lemmon's performance stands among his best, slowly developing a more angered and combative streak in Horman, but never losing sight of the fact that this is ultimately just a man who wants his son back. There's a scene late in the film where he is pleading for his son, practically on his hands and knees, not caring if he is dead or alive he just wants his son so he can return home, that is absolutely devastating. Lemmon and Gavras succeed admirably in bringing this heartbreaking story to the public eye, made even more wrenching when the final truth is revealed (or even more so if you read up on the events that occurred after the film was released).
The street settings for the coup are also very convincing – we feel the constant breakdown of civil society.
Even after almost 30 years this film packs a wallop and the ending is an emotional crescendo.
This part of the story, which Costa-Gavras latches on to as the dramatic sail to pivot through the documentary-style investigation of Horman's disappearance, could have been in lessor hands the fodder of a decent but unfortunately forgettable TV movie (I imagine something like this coming on HBO to some polite acclaim as opposed to the divided but very strong positions on this film). But he wants to cut past anything too sentimental- yes, even with Vangelis on score providing some approximately mournful tones on the synthesizer- because these are real people and they had to deal with this very real and tragic and horrible moment in their lives, and so the filmmaker casts with a particular sense of accuracy (Jack Lemmon for vulnerability and an intelligence that pierces through the BS and Sissy Spacek for an acuity with the character that still allows for moments of real sadness). Everything after Horman's vanishing is told from their point of view, never cutting to some third-person scene with an authority figure.
It's probably the closest we'll get to knowing the facts in the case, as a young would-be writer and filmmaker, played by John Shea, who has ties to some possibly spied-on targets but is relatively harmless. One night as Sissy Spacek, playing his wife, doesn't get home in time due to the nightly curfew imposed on the streets of the city, Hormon is "taken away", by some military force, and he is nowhere to be found or heard from. His father, played by Lemmon, flies down from New York and at first is irritant: when will that boy learn that this way and that away from home is not the way to be? All of this melts away completely as the fact remains: he's missing, may be dead or at best injured, and the American embassy and ambassador make outright lies, really, in the face of not really knowing what happened... or rather having ties with the Chilean military force (some good questions get raised about America's involvement in the Coup), and how other people such as a cocky Italian friend is killed when, originally, said to have returned safely to Chicago by the State department.
There's so much rich detail to the picture that it's hard to describe it all here. Suffice to say that along with Lemmon delivering what might be his best dramatic performance and Spacek giving her all whenever it's needed, which is often, the direction is exceptional here. If not quite the towering achievement of Z, it's still about as close as one could want with the material. By focusing on the physical, hazardous nature of this environment, of a perpetual street war zone going on where gun shots pierce a conversation out of nowhere or an earthquake doesn't mean that people can go out into the streets cause of the curfew, it doesn't become stuck in its time.
Like Battle of Algiers, Missing provides a stirring sense of what it must be like- hell, basically- to be in a place an time where people are shot, openly, on the streets and terror runs rampant by military might. But there's also that human edge: it's watching great acting and being absorbed in a story one has never heard of before. A shocking one. One of the best films of its year.
Jack Lemmon was no stranger to frustrating film experiences. 'The Out-of-Towners (1970)' is among the most exasperating movies you'll ever see, for it demonstrates a perfect (comedic) incarnation of Murphy's Law, in which nothing goes right, and there's nobody you can blame for it. 'Missing' notably differs in that Costa-Gavras singles out a target for our frustration the corrupt, self-serving government officials - and so our annoyance swiftly turns to anger. Lemmon gives one of his finest dramatic performances as Ed Horman, continually haunted by the incomprehensible disappearance of a son he could never understand. Sissy Spacek isn't quite as strong, but her Beth Horman is quiet and vulnerable, a woman of fierce convictions that she's too small to carry out. Any filmmaker should utilise a soundtrack by Greek composer Vangelis with caution, for nothing screams "1980s" quite so loudly. However, it isn't all bad news for 'Missing,' as the electronic musical score does actually add a sad, nostalgic element of surrealism to the scenes of violence and bloodshed.
I liked how Costa-Gavras cut directly to flashbacks without exposition or explanation, leaving the viewer disorientated, and wondering if we are, indeed, watching the past or the present. This technique recreates the confusion of the characters involved, and emphasises that our narrator is not omnipotent, but merely, like Ed, trying to piece together the facts as best as he can. The scenes of military violence, with the contribution of Vangelis' soundtrack, are oddly and eerily surreal particularly the striking image of a galloping white stallion being pursued by a volley of bullets. The visitors to Santiago (though the name Chile is never uttered) are all strangely sedate in response to the bloodshed, their schedules unfazed by the nearby murder of local citizens, as though their status as "Americans" somehow places them above all this. At the film's end, Ed Horman dejectedly states "I just thank God we live in a country where we can still put people like you in jail." There's a deliberate hollowness behind these words; as we've just seen, America's policies aren't quite as righteous as they'd have us believe.
I would rather say that Missing is not a movie made to elicit lovefor either the director (CCG) or its charactersbut respect, esteem and human appreciation.Gavras crafted in Missing severalmany inspired sequences, many pieces where the facts shown on screen are as if inspirited with a magic fascination, with a hugely lyrical charm (it is felt as huge,as I just said,precisely because it is understated and discreet and natural, in no way over-imposed, in no way extrinsic, but twinkling within the core of an amazingly perceived reality ),with an inspirited and simultaneously finely distanced approachthis refined quality succeeds from the beginning of "Missing" in creating an atmosphere that delights.
Some things can be said about Lemmon as wellhe impresses by a firmness, a force that empower his natural, charming, gentlemanly distinction.During the story,his character,this Hormangains progressively depth.This is wondrous to behold,this transformation,that Lemmon makes very evident and tangible and defining.The way this transformation occursand comes forth from --inside.It is easy to conceive it --but to realize it on screen,within the boundaries of a given script .To turn so naturally a natty bourgeois into a much more interesting person .Lemmon transforms what otherwise could have been the worst of political sermons into a surprising human;notice,please that his sense of balance keeps him strictly and highly effective from caricaturing his Horman character;in no scene does Horman appear as a petty bourgeois or as a ridiculous narrow-minded laughable caricature.We may sense, yes,when Gavras thinks that Horman is wrongand when Gavras thinks that Horman, after changing his mind,got right-minded.Yet,Lemmon never looses control of his character and maintains it within the coordinates of a sober and straightforward realism.
In this sense,Missing is an interesting conjunctionof two highly refined and essential artistic stylesthat of Gavras,and that of Lemmon.Both these styles tend toward minimalisma refined and simultaneously energetic minimalism,that does not reduce, but concentrates and reaches a welcome straightforward simplicitywithout a single trace of simplistic propaganda and vehemence.
At the beginning of Missing I was pretty inclined or rather prepared for a small role of LemmonI was prepared for one of those entirely honorary and decorative roles that actors of a certain age and/or fame use to get (I knew,of course,that he was awarded for this performance,that the movie was quite praised and hyped;yet );but that was not the case.The whole movie,on the other hand,is much more than the political propaganda that the Missing's poster announces or promises:"Horman thought that being an American ,etc.".I would define Missing's merits by the freshness ,by Gavras' feel for the photogenic of the locations,and by a certain lyricism and contemplative approach that tones down the vehemence of a political stance.I want to mention exactly this:that Missing is firstly a piece of lyricism, and not of political criticism.Its lyrical and human tones are its main merit.Also,it is completely deprived of any vulgaritycinematographic vulgarity,I mean,like cheap sensationalism, etc.. One might dislike the indeed ugly '70s look of some of these journalists,or the implied Bohemian crap and the bunch of subversive dedicated altruist Communistsfortunately,the movie keeps always beyond this stuff.
One more word about the scorethis is one of Vangelis' finest scores,and what is remarkable today is the subtlety and distinguished charm and the subtle fascination of such a beautiful music;I happen to be an admirer of Dead Can Dance's To Zucchabar (Gladiator).Still,Vangelis' superiority is obvious from the beginningthe man works on a completely different scale.I discovered his music in '93,when I was 15;there are a few albums I listened to quite oftenhis "1492" score,and Antarctica,Mythodea,Voices and even some of his eerie vocal music (that J&V stuff ).Well,the music he made for Missing certainly ranks with these.But I fear my considerations about Vangelis might interest you even less that those about Lemmon's role.There are many,many beauties in Gavras' film;its atmosphere is delightful.Enjoy!