Plot: Charles (John Shea) is an American journalist in Chile, trying to navigate a dangerous, unstable environment to find stories and get the truth about the region out to the rest of the world. His interest was piqued in the area when he learned about the involvement of American forces in Chile, but as he has investigated first hand, he has learned things could be even worse than he imagined. Meanwhile he is about to head back to New York when he and a friend are detained by Chilean armed forces, in what seems to be a routine checkpoint at first blush. But as Charles sees people being tortured, abused, and even killed, he knows he is in serious danger and no one hears from him after he is picked up. Now his driven father Ed (Jack Lemmon) and his distraught wife Beth (Sissy Spacek) investigate his disappearance, but will they discover the truth or find themselves facing a similar fate?
Entertainment Value: This is a desperate, bleak movie to experience, made all the more harrowing because Missing was adapted from a book based on real life events. To think this kind of thing not only happened in this case, but likely countless other times, gives the film an atmosphere that sticks with you. The narrative is rooted in the realism the source provides, so this feels like a grounded, believable turn of events, which again, raises the impact of the experience. The cast helps a lot in that regard, with natural and emotional performances, which are crucial in this case, since the story really leans on the bonds of family. So while Missing takes place in this large scale environment of unrest in Chile’s social and political climate, it narrows to the human level as it follows Ed and Beth in their search of answers. This is such a brilliant approach, as we grasp the scope of the events Charles was caught up in, but that personal level of narrative really drives home the emotion, loss, and sense of helplessness. Needless to say, this is not an easy film to watch at times, as it is intense and can be relentless, again powered by the truth behind the events we’re shown. I found Missing to be a masterwork, a tense and well crafted “ripped from the headlines” story that tells a personal account, but has so many universal themes involved. I’d recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in the source story, the cast, or powerful cinema in general.
At the center of Missing is a gritty, intense performance from Jack Lemmon, who earned an Oscar nomination for his effort here. He is able to channel such deep emotion, but never slide into melodrama or take things over the top, showing skilled restraint on how much to let loose. That is no simple task and given the film’s natural, grounded texture, Lemmon’s performance is right on point and while controlled, always radiates emotion and even desperation. I can’t even imagine being in Ed’s position in real life, but through Lemmon’s turn here, we can see such drive and dedication, even under incredibly dark circumstances. I would easily rank this with Lemmon’s best work and that is no small compliment, given the depth of his career accomplishments. This also proves to be one of Sissy Spacek’s finest performances, again restrained and natural in tone, but packed with tense emotions. The two leads really drive the entire movie, as the characters take center stage over the larger events involved. The cast also includes John Shea, Melanie Mayron, and Richard Branford, while Costa-Gavras directs.