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:: The Missing

Ron Howard has come a long way since Happy Days, though the feel good formula of that fifties TV show seemed to seep through his work with films like Cocoon and Apollo 13. In The Missing, Howard concedes there is an evil that cannot be easily beaten, but there is something slightly uncomfortable about the fact that the evil is all evil and the good is all good, and we all know which one will triumph in the end.

The Missing is based on Thomas Eidson’s book The Last Ride, though it basically feels like a riff on a John Wayne Western, The Searchers. The premise is basically the same as the 1956 John Ford film. Indians kidnap a young girl and a long and harrowing search for her ensues. Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a self-sufficient healer living with her two daughters on a farm in the Wild West. They are far from help and the terrain is dangerous. When Samuel Jones, Maggie’s estranged father, played with stoic humour by Tommy Lee Jones, returns from living with the Indians she wants nothing to do with him. But when her daughter is kidnapped, she needs his tracking skills to find her again.

The Missing is a well made, often gripping, sometimes gruesome film, that could have been great had it been at least half an hour shorter and little more ambiguous. There are a couple of throwaway lines about what the white settlers have done to the Indians, but that’s about it. The kidnappers are pure evil, with witchcraft and torture thrown in, whilst the settlers are pure, good Christians, innocent and wholesome. For all it’s violence, the film conveniently ignores rape as the probably fate of most of the kidnapped girls.

The performances are uniformly good, with the young Jenna Boyd, who plays the determined youngest of Maggie’s daughters, standing out. The relationship between Maggie and her father is an interesting one and doesn’t succumb to sentiment until the very end.

There are some moments of idiocy that feel contrived for plot purposes to draw out the chase, and a rather pointless bit of Indian magic that could have been more subtle. But, on the whole, The Missing is a convincing, if overlong, western that adds little to the genre but doesn’t disgrace it either.