Directed by Costa-Gavras
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 122 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English/Spanish
Subtitles: English, SDH
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Review Date: October 15, 2008
Costa-Gavras’ docudrama on the search for a missing American during a revolutionary coup is part political thriller and part social commentary. It’s also one of the most compelling combinations of character analyses and political indictment ever captured on film. As important in its own way as All the President’s Men, Missing is after almost thirty years still as chilling to watch and as emotionally devastating as it was originally. Time has made many of us more cynical and mistrustful of our own governmental agencies, but those realizations placed in the context of the personal angst we witness during this movie continue to give this film a devastating power that still astonishes.
Called by his daughter-in-law (Sissy Spacek) to help locate her missing husband (John Shea) after he goes missing during a bloody revolutionary coup in Chile in 1973, Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon) comes to Chile fully expecting complete American diplomatic assistance in attempting to either locate his son or find information about his whereabouts. A political conservative who has a prickly relationship with his more liberal son and daughter-in-law, Ed is slowly brought around to see that he’s not being told the truth and is being given the runaround by the American consuls instead of offering concrete assistance. Eventually, he and his daughter-in-law take matters into their own hands to learn the truth.
The first twenty-three minutes of Missing which sets up expository information about the bloody overthrow of the Chilean government by the Pinochet regime by showing us the massive crackdown on human rights are among the most chilling in modern cinema. With gunfire breaking out at odd intervals, no one immune from instant arrest and/or victimization, and curfews enforced with maximum penalty for disobedience, director Costa-Gavras establishes an uneasy mood of chaotic existence that never dissipates for the film’s two hour running time. He sustains this tone with haunting images of morgues filled with both known and unknown corpses, the shadows of unattended bodies on rooftops, floating downriver, or lying unmourned in street gutters, and the wide-eyed anxiety etched on the faces of every person we see. The screenplay by the director and Donald Stewart (which won the 1982 Oscar for them) makes bold strokes in illuminating implicitly the United States’ involvement in that political coup while at the same time showing Ed’s slow realization of his country’s representatives’ duplicitous participation in obscuring the facts of the son’s disappearance while pretending to offer a measure of solicitous concern. The audiences’ lessening naiveté parallels Ed’s as fact after fact comes to light.
Jack Lemmon won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance as Ed Horman, and no award could have been more richly deserved. His haunted face at the moments of epiphany in the film are as moving and true as any ever captured on film, made even more devastating by his stubborn support of the government early in the movie and later shown to be misplaced. Sissy Spacek is a firebrand as Charlie’s wife Beth (renamed for the movie; her real name is Joyce), small of stature but bullheaded when it comes to standing her ground. John Shea has some compelling moments as Charlie both in the early sequences and later in flashbacks as his story gets told in bits and pieces. Melanie Mayron as Charlie’s friend Terry and Joe Regalbuto and Keith Szarabajka as journalist pals of Charlie likewise make positive impressions. As the governmental bureaucrats of questionable honesty and helpfulness, Charles Cioffi, David Clennon, and Richard Venture are all beautifully cast and played. Janice Rule also has some sterling moments as journalist Kate Newman who perhaps knows too much for her own good.
Though the film was made during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan (and angrily denounced by the administration), the specter of Richard Nixon’s deceitful administration hangs heavily on every frame of this work. In one magnificent scene as the U.S. consuls tell Ed Horman what he wants to hear about the possibility of his son’s still being alive, a large framed photograph of a smiling Nixon adorns the wall behind their backs. What better way to insinuate their lies and double-dealing than having them standing in front of the picture of a President who brought double-dealing and conspiracies to a new high (or low) in American politics.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio of the original release is presented in this Criterion DVD. The film has always had a softness to the photography, and that look is replicated in this transfer. The cleanliness and solidity of the transfer is never in doubt though that haze over certain scenes does give the color an occasional plugged up appearance. The shots in Washington have a warm, brownish tone which the transfer captures beautifully. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is solid and true to the original release though one mourns that a surround mix wasn’t available for some of the violent outbursts that punctuate the story. Nevertheless, there are no pops, hiss, crackle, or judder in the audio, just a fine representation of the typical sound design of the period.
The original theatrical trailer is available as a bonus on disc one. It’s in anamorphic widescreen and runs 3 minutes.
Most of the bonus supplements are contained on the second disc in the set.
There are two interviews with director Costa-Gavras collected as one featurette running 33 minutes in 4:3. In this fine supplement, he covers such topics as the original book and his approach to adapting it as a screenplay, his casting ideas, his impressions of the real people that were represented in his movie, and the location filming in Mexico.
An interview with Joyce Horman was conducted in 2008 for this release, and the 30 ¼-minute talk goes into more depth with the real experiences she and her husband shared before the events in the film and afterward as she crusaded for human rights. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
“Producing Missing” is a 17 ½-minute set of interviews with the film’s three producers and Thomas Hauser who wrote the original book the film was based on describing the parts they played in getting the film to the public, its reception upon release, and the lawsuits they endured because of it. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
A 1982 Cannes Film Festival interview with Jack Lemmon, Ed and Joyce Harmon, and Costa-Gavras show all the participants proud of their accomplishments on the eve of the film’s premiere at Cannes, the festival where it went on to win the Palme d’Or. The 19 ¼-minute interview is subtitled in English and presented in 4:3.
“Pursuing Truth” is a 19 ½-minute interview with author Peter Kornbluh who catches us up on the lawsuits and discoveries made since the film was released. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
Highlights from the 2002 Charles Horman Truth Project Awards Night feature participants from the film and real-life people from the story speaking about the movie and its impact on their lives. The 20 ¾-minute featurette is presented in 4:3.
An enclosed 36-page booklet contains stills from the film, an appreciation of the movie by author Michael Wood, an essay by Terry Simon on the people portrayed in the film and her response to the movie, an interview with the director by Gary Crowdus, and the U.S. State Department’s official response to the film.
Missing remains one of the most compelling political films of the 20th century, and Criterion’s beautifully delivered two-disc set gives the film and its subject a wonderfully produced platform to win even more viewers over to its brilliance. Highly recommended.