Set in 1800's New Mexico, a widowed healer called Maddy, calls on her estranged father to help rescue her kidnapped teenage daughter, hopefully before she can be sold on as a prostitute (or worse....). If you've seen John Ford's The Searchers (and you really should) you'll have a good idea where this film is heading.
It's a good job that the father is played by Tommy Lee Jones - if only all things in life were as reliable as Mr. Jones getting his man. He did it in The Fugitive, US Marshalls, Double Jeopardy, The Hunted and now he's doing it again in The Missing.
On the other hand, Ron Howard, the director, is far less reliable. When he's on form, you could get an Apollo 13 - but on a bad day .... Well, let's just whisper Far And Away, and leave it at that. There's no doubt that technically Howard is a great director, but he has a really annoying habit (perhaps borrowed from later-day Spielberg) of being over-sentimental. However, the first couple of scenes of this movie pretty much sets the tone for what follows: Cate Blanchett on the loo, followed by an extremely unpleasant tooth removal.
Howard ups his game with The Missing. The kid gloves are off, and he makes a pretty tough western. A whole load of people die in rather unpleasant ways. He handles the mystical mumbo jumbo with aplomb, turning what could have been cheesy into something fairly chilling.
The cast is universally good. Jones and Cate Blanchett are obviously having a ball with a couple of well drawn characters that they can chew upon. Special mention must go to the two young girls in the film, who are both convincing, and (more importantly) not annoying. Of course, you always need a good villain in this genre, and Eric Schweig excels in his part of an evil murdering witch doctor. Even Val Kilmer appears in an extended cameo.
As you'd expect James Horner provides a stirring western score (minus the syrup), and the photography by Salvatore Totino is superb - take a look at the screen grabs.
2004 has been a good year for western fans. Both this film and Close Range are excellent movies, and even though Jones and Duval are in two different films, it's still great to see Woodrow and Gus back in the saddle again.
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