[box cover]

The Missing

With the early '80s success of Night Shift and Splash, one might have that expected that Ron Howard was on his way to becoming one of Hollywood's foremost directors of light romantic comedies. But Howard would round off the decade with the sci-fi fable Cocoon and the fantasy-adventure Willow, causing more than one observer to compare him to a young Steven Spielberg. It's a comment that may be generally unfair — then again, in the ensuing years Howard has delivered high-profile entertainments (Ransom, The Grinch) and "important" films that the Academy simply can't ignore (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind). With The Missing (2003), Howard once again has changed tack — this time taking his first plunge into a western that's told in the classic style of Anthony Mann and John Ford. Cate Blanchett stars as Maggie Gilkeson, a physician in 1880s New Mexico who lives with her two daughters, Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd), as well as ranch-hand Brake (Aaron Eckhart). Lily divides her time between minor medical procedures for local Apaches and looking after her children, but one day the mysterious Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives on the ranch looking for a night's lodging. Maggie is oddly uncharitable, only later explaining to Brake that their visitor is her father, who disappeared thirty years earlier with no explanation. Jones is told to leave, only to wind up in the nearest town's local jail. But the next day elder daughter Lily is kidnapped by a renegade band of Apaches and former soldiers — the sheriff can't offer any help, and the U.S. Army is chasing the outlaws in the wrong direction. It turns out that Samuel Jones, who has lived with the Apaches for almost half of his life, is the only man who can track his granddaughter. If The Missing seems unusual for a Ron Howard project, in large part it's because the script came from outside Imagine Entertainment, the production firm of Howard and producer Brian Grazer. Imagine has been Howard's incubator for some time, but he was impressed enough by scenarist Ken Kaufman's script (based on the novel The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson) to take on the project. The Missing then is a marvelous opportunity to see Howard outside of his element and working with an unfamiliar genre. At times his tendency towards sentiment is evident (most often in scenes with child actor Jenna Boyd). But just as often, conversations are abbreviated, unfinished — there's a great deal of information about unmarried Maggie's personal life that's left unsaid, and for the most part Sam Jones' decision to "go native" as a young father remains a shrouded inner secret. For Tommy Lee Jones, The Missing marks his first serious role in a decade or more, having spent far too much time playing authoritarian ass-kickers or hanging out with Will Smith. The rugged Sam Jones' isn't too much of a stretch for the popular actor, but he is given room to experiment, particularly with the vocal tonalities of a white man who's spoken Apache for decades. Blanchett's movie-star beauty serves the film well, playing a single mother who ekes out a living in rural New Mexico — she never looks artificially glamorous, and the Aussie's southwestern accent is flawless. James Horner's score is mostly understated, while D.P. Salvatore Totino captures the desert landscapes with an appropriately cinematic flourish. It's hard to say if The Missing is Ron Howard's best film — but even though it didn't gain the same attention as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, it's his most mature effort to date. Columbia TriStar's two-disc release features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One includes the film and a gallery of trailers, while Disc Two offers 11 deleted scenes, a "making-of" featurette (29 min.), featurettes on the script, score, casting, and Apache language training, three alternate endings, three photo galleries, an outtakes reel (2 min.) and a section of interviews with Ron Howard, which also includes home movies. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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