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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Missing



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#1 of 6 Matt Hough

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Posted October 15 2008 - 03:16 PM


Missing
Directed by Costa-Gavras

Studio: Criterion/Universal
Year: 1982
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 122 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English/Spanish
Subtitles: English, SDH
MSRP: $ 39.95

Release Date: October 21, 2008
Review Date: October 15, 2008


The Film

5/5

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.


Video Quality

4/5

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.

Audio Quality

3.5/5

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.

Special Features

4.5/5

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.


In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)

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.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 6 Richard--W

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Posted October 16 2008 - 03:37 AM

Word for word a perfect review. Thanks for drawing attention to one of the most important films ever made. The film is all the more remarkable in that it tells a true story about corruption without ever expressing anti-American sentiment. Missing is not anti-American, in case anyone is wondering.

#3 of 6 Shawn.F

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Posted October 16 2008 - 01:16 PM

I agree with you. This is one incredible drama, one of the best films of the 1980s.

Please Criterion...announce this for Blu-Ray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#4 of 6 Richard--W

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Posted October 17 2008 - 06:32 AM

Constantine Costa-Gavras was positively courageous. I don't know how he managed to pull off his factual political thrillers without getting killed. From the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, a new Costa-Gavras thriller was an event, a wake-up! call, keenly anticipated, endlessly discussed, and much admired. When Missing came out in 1982, it was considered his crowning achievement. But all his films were brilliant and courageous. He won acclaim and awards everywhere.

Now that Criterion has worked its magic on Missing, perhaps they will give attention to Costa-Gavras' previous political thrillers starring French actor Yves Montand who is perhaps best known to HTF members as Barbara Striesand's co-star in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

I'm not sure, but I think the Fox-Lorber DVD of Z (ABC / Cinema 5, 1969) is oop now. If it isn't oop, the transfer could stand improvement. Costa-Gavras chronicles the overthrow of the democratic government in Greece by the fascist military who are setting up their own government. The story involves the investigation of a democratic leader who is murdered during a protest rally. The murder stirs up more unrest instead of suppressing it, with protesters scrawling the letter "Z" everywhere. This only escalates the violent oppression. The fascists try to stop the investigation and to cover up their part in the murder. Among the long list of things banned by their new government is the letter "Z" which means "alive" in Greek. When Z was released during the turbulent year of 1969, amidst campus riots, election frauds and anti-war protests, it was like getting your bell rung. American audiences identified with Z. Nothing like it had ever been shown on theater screens in the USA before.

To the best of my knowledge L'Aveu / The Confession (Paramount 1970) has never been on home video. It's a true story about a minister who realizes he's being surreptitiously observed and followed by the Communist Party. He is arrested, interrogated, and forced to confess to ideological offenses that aren't true. The film documents how the USSR purged undesirables from its eastern European states. My father took me to see L'Aveu / The Confession when I was too young to understand the film, but the memory of it has stayed with me.

I remember seeing two-page display adds in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek etc. that quoted all the praise heaped upon State of Siege / État de siège (Cinema V, 1972). The press went crazy over this film. Publications that didn't ordinarily cover movies wrote editorials about it. It was Costa-Gavras' biggest hit in the 1970s. The soundtrack by Mikis Theodorakis was a hit, too. In Uruguay, South America a group of urban guerillas kidnap an American diplomat sent to plead for humanitarian causes in the aftermath of a takeover. The military dictatorship embarks on a house-to-house search to find him. At first we think the American diplomat is the victim, but we gradually come to realize he's a counter- intelligence agent who's been training the dictatorship in how to suppress civil insurgency with tactics that include dis-information, interrogation and torture. As the dictatorship closes in on the urban guerillas, our perspective toward them begins to change while their hostage is revealed as something of a monster. There is no black and white in State of Siege, only shades of gray. Shot like a newsreel, the home invasions and personal injuries add up to a palpable feeling of reality. You are there. I still have the paperback screenplay. It was released on DVD in Brazil and in Central Europe (no English subtitles, I'm afraid) but not in the USA. No thriller this exciting and important deserves to be forgotten.

I haven't seen Special Section / Section spéciale (Universal, 1975) nor have I seen it listed anywhere on home video. It's about how the judicial system and law enforcement of France co-operated with the Nazi occupation to remove all the Jews and undesirables from France during WW2. Although an historical film, Special Section is important in Costa-Gavras's filmography because it's thematically consistent with his other political thrillers.

Costa-Gavras's method of documenting political crimes through the story of an investigation and a mystery plot was very effective entertainment. Part docudrama and part investigative thriller, his films move relentlessly forward with an urgency that never bogs down under boring lectures or editorials. His films hustle. If it had not been for Costa-Gavras, there would be no Oliver Stone or Michael Moore today. They are lightweights in comparison. Costa-Gavras's films are as relevant -- and as revolutionary -- now as when they were made. Perhaps Criterion's re-release of Missing will renew interest in this awesome and important film maker, and facilitate more of his reality-checks being released on DVD.

#5 of 6 Mike.B

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Posted October 21 2008 - 04:55 AM

Thanks for the informative review, Matt. Very good to hear, as I preordered this fine movie and expect it to arrive this afternoon. Really a very underrated and underappreciated political thriller.

And very well said, Richard. You captured it perfectly.

#6 of 6 Richard--W

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Posted October 21 2008 - 07:37 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike.B
Thanks for the informative review, Matt. Very good to hear, as I preordered this fine movie and expect it to arrive this afternoon. Really a very underrated and underappreciated political thriller.

And very well said, Richard. You captured it perfectly.

Thank you, Mike.B. I just went in and corrected my typos and added a few thoughts. Hopefully it's clearer now.