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The Missing (2003)

How far would you go, how much would you sacrifice to get back what you have lost?

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 130 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

I’ve got a bit of a theory on Ron Howard. I’ve come to the conclusion that virtually all of his films possess exactly the same characteristics as his old ‘Happy Days’ screen face li’l Richie Cunningham. They tend to stick around on screen for a little longer than is really necessary, get caught up in unwieldy sentiment, and are never really as subtle as they’d like to be – yet most are also well-acted, entertaining, and resonate the strange likeability of a 1950s ginger kid.

‘The Missing’, Howard’s directorial follow-up to the much drooled-over A Beautiful Mind, is the latest of his projects to fit that description to a tee. But viewers beware – this film is also far darker than your average Howard flick, injecting the sort of violence, despair and desolate surroundings not seen since the infamous lost episode of ‘Happy Days’ where the Fonz was left weeping in a dimly-lit car park after being thrown out of Arnold’s for thrusting a beer bottle in Potsie’s face.

It’s 1885, and deep in the wicky-wicky-wild-wild-west a happy family’s carefree days of tending to cattle and providing medical attention to toothless old crones are interrupted by the arrival of a visitor.

He’s Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), and he dresses like an “Injun”, but he’s not one – he’s just pretending. It turns out he’s actually the long lost daddykins of brooding maw Maggie (Cate Blanchett), and she’s none too chuffed to have the old sod suddenly back on the scene. But, when she finds boyfriend Brake (Aaron Eckhart) boiled-in-a-bag and daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) kidnapped by a fat old mystic (Eric Schweig), she’s left with little choice but to call in Dad’s help.

From there on in it’s nine parts ‘The Searchers’ to one part Finding Nemo, as those members of the family who haven’t been given the Uncle Ben treatment set off across the prairies to find Lily before she’s sold to some random Mexicans.

There’s a slight air of missed opportunity about this whole thing – the story never touches on the sort of Native American issues that could give it greater relevance to the modern era, and fairly mediocre dialogue is used to tell a largely uninventive story.

But for all that I enjoyed it. Jones is back on form after a diabolical recent run with The Hunted and Men In Black II, and Blanchett delivers a powerful yet feminine performance. Best of all though is Schweig, who provides a bit of genuine terror in his role as perma-scowling man-witch Chidin. And just check out those finger nails! The man clearly hasn’t been near a bar of soap for years.

This isn’t in much danger of becoming a classic addition to the genre, but it’s good to see competent westerns still getting made and if guns, horses and moseying-on-down are your thing, this is well worth a look.

It's Got: Tommy Lee Jones looking more weather-beaten than ever.

It Needs: A set of nail-clippers for the baddie.


Wild wild west, Ron Howard-style. Give it a look.