Without a Trace (1983) Poster

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9/10
A Great Film
It's one of those Saturday nights you decided not to go out to the bar. It's near midnight and you're flipping through the pay cable stations because you don't care to watch another rerun of Saturday Night Live. You come across a movie from the early 80's that sounds like a really bad TV movie. (A side note, I believe the true story that inspired this film also inspired a god-awful TV movie starring Christopher Reeve that I caught on Lifetime one Sunday afternoon while I was nursing a hang-over). Instead, 'Without a Trace' turns out to be one of those hidden gems you come across at just such odd times once in a blue moon. It's one of those films that makes you wonder how many other 'lost classics' are lurking out there amongst the overbearing weight of the tripe Hollywood typically puts out.

Kate Nelligan and Judd Hirsch deliver Oscar-caliber performances as the mother who won't accept her son is gone and the hardworking detective who takes a personal interest in the frustrating kidnapping case. This is one of those films that gives us an intimate look at one person's loss, how it effects those around them, and also provides a touching glimpse into the family of a cop trying to recover that person's loss. This was producer Stanley Jaffe's first and only foray into directing, and it's a shame, since he clearly delivered the goods here. There are two great scenes that play both as thrilling and heartbreaking that showcase just how capable and beautifully understated a director Jaffe was:

1. The night after the six-year old is kidnapped, the camera pans up from his discarded pajama top lying on the bathroom floor to his mother (Nelligan) having her first breakdown in the bathtub. It's a wonderful scene that is all at once chilling, gut-wrenching, and emotional resonant. 2. Nelligan retires to her bedroom and turns out all the lights. Everything is silent. All the audience sees is pitch black. It seems like this unfathomably dark silence could last forever. We the audience are put on the edge of our seats. Then the silence in broken. Nelligan begins to pray.

This is true tear jerker that I believe has probably been dismissed over the years because of the alleged all too happy 'Hollywood' ending that was tacked on. The true story that inspired this film didn't end so happily, but this was never meant to be a documentary. This is a movie that is designed to give people (especially parents) a sense of hope in a world gone mad, and I suspect it would especially connect with audiences today in the wake of all the high profile child abduction cases of late (i.e. the Smart case). The ending is beautifully executed and truly uplifting, and had the film not ended this way, the film would've been one of the bleakest, most depressing films ever made, and I fear I would've not been able to sleep that night. We all know how tragically things could've ended. All we need to do is look at the real world to see that and get depressed. This movie took a chance and decided to give us hope, and that is neither untrue or contrived, that is a stroke of genius.

When all is said and done, 'Without a Trace' is a great movie that deserves to be uttered in the same breath as 'Kramer vs. Kramer' and 'Ordinary People.' It makes more recent kidnap flicks (like Ron Howard's egregious thriller 'Ransom', and the pitifully hokey 'The Deep End of the Ocean') come across as terribly manipulative and untrue. Not to be missed. (Another side note: Where's the DVD? They seem to put every piece of crap ever produced on DVD these days, so why not this, something that is actually good and worthwhile and would connect deeply with audiences?)
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A real tear jerker of a movie
westsidedude200127 May 2003
I can't believe that a movie could cause such an emotional upheaval in my body. I cried because the character development between the boy and his mother was very good. Judd Hirsch did a great job as the detective willing to go out on a limb for the mother. This was a good movie back in 1983 and still a good video to watch.
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Every parent's nightmare is brought to life....
scoobyg6913 March 2000
Warning: Spoilers
OK, get a BOX of tissue before you sit and watch this film, you'll need it. Every parent's nightmare is brought to life in this tale of a missing child... "Without A Trace." Kate Nelligan is WONDERFUL as the grieving mother who's hope is put to the test. This movie takes you on a journey of your emotions, from the discovery of the child's disappearance, the pain and agony of the mother, the sudden loss of hope, and the INCREDIBLE, heart-tugging ending that leaves you with the biggest smile and teary eyes. I have NEVER seen a more satisfying ending to ANY movie than this one. Every time I watch it, I cry all over. This movie will forever hold a dear place in my heart.
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8/10
.."If you felt what I have you'd be screaming right now!"....
MarieGabrielle4 November 2006
One of the best lines as Kate Nelligan portrays Susan Selky, a professor in NYC whose son has been abducted, and possibly murdered.

Nelligan is outstanding as a frustrated and angry mother whose son one day simply disappears after she sees him off on the school bus.

There are a few surprises here. Judd Hirsch is very good as Detective Minetti, although the story does go off tangent a bit with his family life. David Dukes portrays her estranged husband, who is initially suspected of abducting his own son.

Stockard Channing also has a small part as Selky's friend. When she attempts to talk Susan into the platitude : ..."picking up your bootstraps and move on"..., Susan (Nelligan) becomes enraged, telling her she cannot have a clue as to how this feels. A very powerful scene, and relevant to anyone who has experienced a horrible loss, and doesn't know how to cope.

Overall this is a good film with a few tangents, but well worth a view. 8/10.
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9/10
The DVD for this movie is available now.
deathcabgirl21 May 2005
I won't go into the specifics of the movie as many other here have already done that. To those that were wondering about the DVD - It is out on DVD now. I think it came out in March 2005. I bought it as soon as it became available.

Another thing. This movie is widely known as being based on real events. It may or may not be but we know it is based on a novel by Beth Gutcheon called "Still Missing". Whether that novel is based on a actual event I can't say for sure.

There was one comment here by someone who said the movie was no good. I don't know what movie she was watching as it sure wasn't this one. She said the houseboy cut himself shaving or something to that affect. Not true. This tells me she didn't watch the movie very closely.

To end this I will just say 'Without A Trace' is one of my favorite movies of all time. Top 10? Maybe not but it is up there. Great, I mean really great acting by Kate Nelligan and Judd Hirsch. David Dukes and Stockard Channing really flex their acting muscles here as well.
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Very Good
jmorrison-224 July 2002
A bit contrived, yes, but exceptional performances by Judd Hirsch and Kate Nelligan. The pain and desperation just radiates from Nelligan. As a father, I can't even imagine what it must have took to just keep functioning.

The ending is emotionally thrilling. if you don't have an enormous lump in your throat, and tears in your eyes.......
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beautiful, movie performances Nelligan, Hirsch, Dukes . .
Ilya-1319 December 2000
This movie leaves me crying and heaving. The strong, strong performance by Kate Nelligan warranted an academy award. The range of motions she expressed - anger, fear, love, - and finally, joy. Judd Hirsch, equally strong in the sometimes undermanding role of the cop. David Dukes is probably the most unappreciated performance. I have seen it many times, but this last time I watched him and the emotion, his pain showed through as well as Nelligan's. A classic.
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5/10
Slow-going human drama looks like a well-produced episode from a TV serial...
moonspinner557 September 2005
Kate Nelligan, always a forthright and gripping actress, gets to show many different sides as a single mother in New York City whose little boy disappears one day while walking a short distance to school; she clashes with authorities and friends, but is convinced her child has been kidnapped and is still alive. These type of human dramas are all pretty much the same, but if the extremities pull you in, they are undeniably absorbing. There's a horribly facetious sub-plot about a homosexual suspect (who seems to be rendered guilty by virtue of his fetishes), but Nelligan gives the familiar theme her class and ladylike vigor, making it fresher than most, and she's helped by other good actors like Judd Hirsch, Stockard Channing and David Dukes. The film is ultimately hurt by its clichés (especially when dealing second-handedly with police lieutenant Hirsch's family life); and as for the climax, it'll either strike you as very emotional or incredibly hokey and over-the-top. ** from ****
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9/10
Emotionally Draining But Wonderful Movie
ksjeffrey4 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I haven't seen this movie for years, but I think about it whenever I hear of a news story where a child goes missing.

If I live to be 100, I will never forget the final scene of this movie *** don't read any further if you intend to see it *** Judd Hirsch had located the kid after years of detective work, and was bringing him home (un-known to his mother)in his squad car. As I recall, he had the lights and siren moving (I might be wrong on this point) as he believed that getting this child back in the arms of his mom was that important (it was).

The mother was walking down the street with a bag of groceries, going about her daily life without her son. As she approached her flat, a police car screeched to a stop out front. Wondering what the commotion was about, she looked down the street to see her little boy emerge from the driver's seat of the police cruiser. It took a moment for it all to register, but when she realized that the kid was her long lost child, she threw the sack of groceries on the ground (the groceries scattered everywhere) and ran as fast as she could to hug her child, grabbing him in an embrace that threatened to squeeze the air out of him.

It was one of the most powerful, riveting, happy and joyous movie endings I have ever seen, and I cried like a baby during that final scene. To this day, that movie still brings tears to my eyes. I wish all child abduction cases would end like this.
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6/10
Worthwhile drama
gcd7026 January 2007
From screenwriter and original novelist Beth Gutcheon(novel entitled "Still Missing")comes "Without a Trace", which tells the story of a little six year old boy who leaves for school one morning and then completely disappears.

The film starts slowly but picks up the tension as it moves along. Producer and one-time director Stanley R. Jaffe tries to use quiet moments early in the film; but for me they did not work. Later, as the movie gets going, it becomes moving and thought provoking. A clever and touching finale, along with solid performances from the under-rated Kate Nelligan, the magnificent Judd Hirsch and David Dukes, make the film worthwhile.

Sunday, February 10, 1991 - Video
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10/10
Should be mandatory viewing for all parents.
CarpenterKen16 December 1998
This film takes the viewer on an emotional roller-coaster. Don't know if I've ever cried harder or more frequently in a movie theater. Kate Nelligan is as good here as she is in "The Eye of the Needle."
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Without a Trace
Coxer994 June 1999
Well made film that is graced by top notch performances by Nelligan as a distraught and determined mother of her missing son and Hirsch as the sympathetic detective. Unfortunately, the conclusion is unbelievable and crosses the line on tearjerker and sentimental.
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7/10
Triumph of the caravan home
rwb143 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Child abduction is a parent's worst fear. This movie hits all of those fears; through the initial shock of the disappearance of Alex Selky, to the maddening vigil of waiting by the phone and enduring police double-talk about leads in the investigation. Kate Nelligan plays the mother who never gives up and it's her needling of Judd Hirsch, the lead police detective that prompts him to check further.

While many child abduction cases end in tragedy, we are permitted in this movie the triumph of the happy ending. Judd Hirsch (off-duty with son in tow) checks out that one "dismissible" lead.

The caravan of police of various jurisdictions bringing Alex back home is magnificent. The final scene of the mother and son reunion, against the busy backdrop of the crowds and media will have you wiping your eyes.
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8/10
A Powerful Star Turn by a Great Actress...
ijonesiii18 January 2006
1983's WITHOUT A TRACE was my first exposure to the acting gifts of one Kate Nelligan. Nelligan dominates the screen as a soon to be single mom who sends her young son off to school one day and he disappears. The film makes all the predictable twists and turns you expect it to but the journey is worth it because of the gut-wrenching performance by Kate Nelligan in the lead. Credit must be given to skillful direction and a decent screenplay and strong supporting turns from Judd Hirsch as as a detective, David Dukes as Nelligan's self-absorbed ex, Stockard Channing as her insensitive best friend and Kathleen Widdoes as a psychic, it is the performance by Kate Nelligan that raises the bar on this one, who brings so much more to her performance than is in the script, rich, detailed, and worth studying.
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I loved how it ended...if only real life were like this!
dtucker867 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Kate Nelligan and Judd Hirsch both give outstanding performances as the mother of a missing child and the detective determined to find him. I felt so bad for this poor woman when her little boy disappeared. Nelligan wonderfully conveys this mother's anguish and you feel angry on her behalf when they question her about her being the guilty party! Judd Hirsch had been nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in Ordinary People and he proves here that it wasn't a lucky fluke. He plays a man who is a tough, professional police officer, but at the same time he still has a caring heart and feels for this poor mother. He plays a tough sob with his heart on his sleeve so wonderfully. It is a tribute to these two fine actors that they make their characters seem so real that your heart aches for them. Actually, there are many children who vanish in the United States every year, most of these are runaways or children who are abducted by non-custodial parents. "Stranger" abductions are really very rare, but they are the most heartbreaking and tragic, like Adam Walsh's abduction. This film SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT, had an ending that was one of the happiest that I have ever seen in a movie. I saw Without A Trace two decades ago and I still remember how I felt like rejoicing like a sinner in church when Alex was found and they brought him home! I almost cried because I only wish that real life could be like this and that all abducted children could return home. I wanted to point out that this movie is based on a real life child abduction that has not had a happy ending at all. In May of 1979, a little boy in New York named Etan Patz left to go to his bus stop to go to school and disappeared without a trace. He was finally declared legally dead a few years ago. Many people have credited the disappearance of Etan Patz with awakening people to the plight of missing children.
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10/10
One of the best movies--If not the best
brohdaw8 March 2005
I have to agree with an earlier comment; where is the DVD for this movie??? I for one would certainly purchase the DVD, and actually maybe a couple for keepsake. I came onto this site at 4:45 am to find out how I could purchase this movie again. Let me just advise you that I noticed this movie came on about 1:30am and even having to be at work by 8am this morning I still stayed awake to watch this movie. I am a movie buff, there are "tons" of movies I love but this movie tops them all. The only thing I am sorry about is that I did know this movie was based on a true story and by reading some of the posts in here I found that the true story did not have a happy ending like the movie. When I read that the little boy, Etan, was never found I felt like I swallowed my heart and I kind of feel like, we the viewers who love this movie, are we selling the real family short by enjoying a movie that is not the actual story? I could never tear myself away from watching/wanting this movie but I do feel bad for the real family. I have seen this movie so many times that it doesn't take me until the ending to cry. I think I start to "churn" at the point that Judd and "his son" get into the car on their way because I know what is about to happen, and yes I cry every single time, doesn't matter how many times I have (and will) see this movie. I am studying criminal justice and this movie has me wondering if maybe I should just go into a field of dealing with missing children, but I don't know if I could handle the disappointment because I am almost certain that the outcome of a high percentage of cases is that of a depressing ending. Okay, so I have babbled enough, I just had to put my "two cents" in on how much I LOVE THIS MOVIE TOO. If anyone ever gets any additional information on this movie being available on DVD please don't hesitate to email me and inform me of that. (kerrilknopp@yahoo.com)
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I've cried buckets watching this film
dmorris100629 March 2004
This has to be my all time favourite weepie, I've even had to buy a second copy of the video because the original is so worn out, I really enjoy watching this even though my children think I'm mad when I sit there crying my eyes out from half way through the film right to the end and when its finished say "I really enjoyed watching that" am I on my own here!!

You can really feel for the characters and having children of my own really make you think twice about letting them out on their own. I read the book back in nineteen eighty something and even that made me cry, I have managed to get another copy of this book from America as it is out of print here in Britain, it brings back a lot of memories of the first time I read it when my children were very young. I just wish every real life story had a happy ending like this did
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10/10
Without A Trace- A Triumphant Film ****
edwagreen23 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Superb. One of the best films I've seen in a very long time.

Judd Hirsch and Kate Nelligan show what stuff good actors are made of by their outstanding performances as the police detective and mother of a kidnapped child. Their film chemistry is magnificent. They are ably supported by the late David Dukes, the estranged husband and father of the victim. Stockard Channing has a small but pivotal role as the friend who doesn't want this apparent tragedy to totally consume Nelligan. With those eyes of hers, she looks suspicious, not well-meaning.

The film pulls out all emotional stops and shows an engaging media, parent groups willing to help with posters and a terrific police department. As time goes on, interest in the case sizzles and is closed when a suspect, a cleaning man for the family, is arrested.

This film provides some intellectual taste as both Dukes and Nelligan are college professor, the former the head of the English Department, and she a member of the department at Columbia University.

This is definitely riveting drama at its best. The viewer is in for an emotional ride. As stated, Hirsch is terrific here as he lets his emotions run wild with him.

By the way, in these kind of cases, all leads must be pursued.
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10/10
Every Mother's Nightmare
arthingvold27 May 2000
Kate Nelligan gives a stellar performance as a woman living out every mother's nightmare--her six-year-old son does not come home from school and has disappeared without a trace. Judd Hirsch is the baffled police detective who neglects his own son while fielding myriad leads. Best appreciated when one reads the book it was based on, Still Missing, it is profoundly moving for all parents.
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Every parent's nightmare personified; noble effort by Nelligan
george.schmidt23 April 2003
WITHOUT A TRACE (1983) *** Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, David Dukes, Stockard Channing, Daniel Bryan Corkill. Engrossing account of a small boy's disappearance and the horrors of his mother's unrelenting display of determinism in finding him dead or alive. Nelligan is exceptional running the gamut of emotions in this manipulative drama as is Hirsch as the dogged police detective equally disturbed by the crime. Based on Beth Gutcheon's book "Still Missing" (and adapted for the screen by her) and eerily resembling the NYC-based Etan Patz story.
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10/10
Great film, one of those you catch after getting bored with supposed blockbusters.
Tony23 January 2018
This film draws you in with characters and events like any good crime mystery novel would. The cast are excellent in their portrayals. If you don't know the story it's based on you'll probably figure it out soon on, or maybe see something of the dreaded red herring. Just watch it and enjoy storytelling that doesn't need SFX let alone CGI.
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3/10
Who new kidnapping could be so bland?
Ben Ryan22 December 2014
What a meh of a movie! Although it's good for a good sob. Kate Nelligan maintains a single expression throughout: pursed-lipped, blanked-faced concern. A highlight is a climactic speech given by Stockard Channing as she sports an 80s shag perm so frizzy she looks to have just been electrocuted, an effect belied by the fact that she spends the whole emotional scene calmly stirring her finger in a bottle of Tab. The film ultimately struck home for me, however, because all the appliances in the film were vintage Reagan era and exactly the same I had at home as a kid, down to the analog clock on the oven and the absence of a microwave. All and all a dull, yet somehow still engrossingly forgettable film that jumped the early wave of post-Etan Patz/Steve Stayner kidnapping hysteria!
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10/10
Just terrific - one of the best most emotionally moving movies ever made
randy60528 March 2014
I know I'm stepping out of line a little giving it a "10", but that is just what I feel it deserves. This movie became known to me on a cable channel back soon after its release in the 80's. I was incredibly moved by it and the unforgettable ending described so beautifully in other reviews here - I just knew this would always be a favorite movie of mine and one that I have shared with so many people over the years. I'm about to order the DVD, but have had the VHS for decades. If you like being emotionally moved from agony to ecstasy you'll enjoy this film. Just that simple. If emotions turn you off or you're more action oriented - rent Star Trek or any of the other action flicks. Excellent acting by Nelligan above all others, but dutiful performances by the other actors including the incredible little boy. Nelligan truly deserved the academy award and I don't know who rec'd it in 1983 if not Meryl Streep, but Kate surely should have won. Meryl has never moved me to this extent. And the ending is just as it should be - a pure work of art in its conception and exposition, from everyone concerned but in particular the director who must have envisioned this to begin. One imagines this scene may well have inspired the making of the film originally. I'm saddened to read that he only directed this film but is a famous producer. He certainly needs to make more if he's still with us. And where is Kate these days? She isn't so old compared to other actresses. I'd still enjoy seeing her.
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10/10
An all time favorite movie
Lisa1117127 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
What can I say? I watch this movie every time it comes on TV and have been since 1983. It tugs at your heart strings and the ending will leave you sobbing like a baby out of joy. Kate Nelligan turns in an excellent performance as the distraught mother and Judd Hirsch is just as good as an overworked cop who can't resist trying to help. Stockard Channing is very convincing as the best friend who is frustrated by mom's refusal to believe her child will never be seen again. This movie stands the test of time and I will continue to watch it whenever it plays on TV. HBO has been running it quite frequently lately and the ending alone makes it work rewatching. Highly recommended!!
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Excellent!!!
yogibear58220 January 2002
This movie is excellent. If you need a good cry, this is the movie to see. It takes your breath away starting right from the beginning.

Fine acting throughout the entire film. Would love to have it on tape someday... or at least see it on TV again.
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