Friday, May 18, 2012

2012 Cannes Marathon: Missing (1982 film)

(Winner of the Palme D’or & Best Actor Prize to Jack Lemmon at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival)

Based on Thomas Hauer’s book, Missing is the story of a man and his daughter-in-law trying to American journalist Charles Horman during 1973 coup in Chile. Directed by Costas-Gavras and screenplay by Costas-Gavras and Donald E. Stewart, the film explores the search of a man from his own wife and father as they also encounter a world ravaged by chaos following the fall of Salvador Allende. Starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Janice Rule, and John Shea as Charles Horman. Missing is an intense suspense-drama from Costas-Gavras.

Days after Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allende in 1973 Chile, left-wing journalist Charles Horman and his friend Terry Simon (Melanie Mayron) has just returned from Vina del Mar as they have a scoop about what’s been happening. With Horman’s wife Beth (Sissy Spacek) living in Santiago as she is helping out other people in the city, Charles believes something is happening as he suddenly disappears. With Beth trying to find her husband, her father-in-law Ed (Jack Lemmon) arrives to help out though he believes that it’s Charles’ fault due to his own political idealism. While Ed asks some American officials in the U.S. Ambassador (Richard Venture), its consul Phil Putnam (David Clennon), and a naval captain in Ray Tower (Charles Cioffi) to help out, Beth remains unsure.

While Terry reveals what Charles was looking for and why they were at the Vina del Mar, Beth and Ed look for clues as Ed wondering what is taking so long. With Beth frustrated with the government as she and Ed talk to locals about what might’ve happened, Ed starts to believe that the Americans might be covering something up as he confronts them over what is taking so long. He and Beth decide to take matters into their own hands as they read Charles’ notes over what he found in Vina del Mar as it reveals that the man he and Terry met in a naval engineer named Andrew Babcock (Richard Bradford) might’ve played a role in the coup. After talking to one of Charles’ colleagues in David Holloway (Keith Szarabajka) who had been taken away and interrogated with another journalist in Frank Teruggi (Joe Regalbuto).

Ed and Beth continue their investigation with the help of freelance journalist Kate Newman (Janice Rule) as they reveal that Charles also met a colonel in Sean Patrick (Jerry Hardin) at Vina del Mar where they also meet Tower at a party. Ed and Beth make a discovery about what probably did happen to Charles as Ed would search for answers on his own. What happens would force Ed to confront the people he trusted with finding his son.

The film is about a man and his daughter-in-law trying to find his son during the 1973 coup of Chile where two different political views of young and old are shaken by a troubled world as they’re just wanting find out what happened to this man that has disappeared. While it’s a film that is essentially a mystery of sorts with a lot of political drama set in the mix against this backdrop, it’s a film that also raises questions about the role of the American government in this military coup that is led by Pinochet. Yet, it’s the human drama that Costas-Gavras and co-writer Donald E. Stewart, with additional contributions from John Nichols, are interested in as a father is just trying to figure out what his son and daughter-in-law were doing in Chile and why did his son suddenly disappear like that. While the government would make claims that the disappearance is staged where Charles’ wife would rebuke that it’s bullshit.

Driving the story is this tumultuous relationship between a man and his daughter-in-law where neither seems to agree with each other politically or socially yet their relationship grows once they take matters into their own hands in the investigation. Part of the film is told in flashbacks as Ed and Beth Horman is talking to people about what happened while reading some of Charles’ notes. For Ed, it gives him the chance to understand the son he often has differences with as he also learns that Charles might have done nothing wrong. This would have him and Beth questioning their own government as they also have to seek forces outside. The screenplay that Costas-Garvas and Donald. E. Stewart does play up the suspense with these flashbacks and chilling scenes where Ed and Beth have to encounter places that is brutal and have an air of death.

Costas-Gavras’ direction is truly entrancing for the way he captures a world that is en-ravaged in chaos as it is told from the perspective of its main characters. Shot on location in Mexico to avoid controversy in Chile, the film does have this very realistic portrayal of a country where people are taken away by soldiers as the camera doesn’t shy away from what Charles Horman, his father, and his wife are seeing. With a lot of startling shots as the camera moves around to capture the locations or to follow the characters as they walking towards the hallway. The direction is always making sure that is something is happening as it includes some intimate moments in the room where meetings happen.

One notable scene is a meeting where Ed questions the government as Costas-Gavras keeps the camera still to let the drama unfold in a very understated yet engaging manner. The way he lets the actors play things out while framing them in a scene is also among one of the film’s highlights. Notably in the third act where things do cool down for the film’s big revelation as Costas-Gavras doesn’t have to do a lot for the audience to side with the Hormans. He just lets the actors play out their emotions as the film’s ending reveals troubling aftermaths about what the American government didn’t want people to know. Overall, Costas-Gavras creates a truly incredible yet haunting film about a man trying to find his son with the help of his daughter-in-law.

Cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich does superb work with the film‘s cinematography from the sunny locations of the city and beaches to some of the more entrancing interior and exterior nighttime scenes to play up stark mood of the film. Editor Francoise Bonnot does excellent work with the editing to maintain a mostly straightforward approach to the editing while it includes a wonderful use of dissolves to play out Charles‘ abduction scene. Production designer Peter Jamison, with set decorator Linda Spheeris and art directors Lucero Isaac and Agustin Ituarte, does nice work with the recreation of the chaos of Santiago including the stadium and the scenes at the morgue.

Costume designer Joe I. Tompkins does very good work with the costumes from the more casual, lively clothes that Beth wears to the more business-like suits that Ed wears to differentiate their characters. Sound effects editor Michele Boehm does fantastic work with the sound from the way helicopters are heard to the array of gunfire and explosions that play out in the tense atmosphere that Beth and Ed are in. The film’s score by Vangelis is wonderful for its brooding yet intense synthesizer-driven score for some of the film’s suspense scenes as well as more low-key pieces in the film’s less-dramatic scenes.

The casting by Wally Nicita is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it includes appearances from Richard Bradford as the naval engineer Andrew Babcock, Joe Regalbuto and Keith Szarabajka as a couple of Charles’ journalist friends, Jerry Hardin as a colonel that Charles and Terry befriends in their investigation, and Richard Venture as a U.S. ambassador who is hiding secrets that makes Ed unsure of what is happening. Janice Rule is excellent as a freelance reporter who aids Ed and Beth in uncovering Charles’ notes while Melanie Mayron is very good as Charles’ friend Terry who also gives Ed and Beth insight into what they’re trying to find. David Clennon is quite fine as a young U.S. consul who tries to hide the truth from Beth and Ed while Charles Cioffi is superb as a slimy naval captain who makes Beth uncomfortable during a stay at his home in a flashback.

John Shea is terrific as the idealistic Charles Horman who is trying to discover what is happening around him as he would end up disappearing over what he might’ve uncovered. Sissy Spacek is great as Charles’ wife Beth who is intent on trying to find her husband while aiding her father-in-law as Spacek definitely holds her own as she has some amazing chemistry with a legend like Jack Lemmon.

Lemmon’s performance in the film is truly the highlight as Lemmon displays a true sense of mastery in the art of acting. From the way he tries to impose his ideas towards his daughter-in-law to the way he reacts to the things around him as he becomes more disillusioned with his own government. The scenes where Lemmon has these intense monologues about what the U.S. government should be doing is very engaging over what Lemmon could do. The scene where he’s in a stadium as he tries to talk to his son among this group of people is heartbreaking to watch. Notably in the physicality in how he reacts to startling news as his performance is a true master class in what acting should be.

Missing is a phenomenal film from Costas-Gavras that features magnificent performances from Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. The film is definitely one of the great suspense-dramas that allows the audience to follow a couple of people in search of a man against a period that is crucial. It’s also a film that reveals the way the American government can play a role in creating tense situations like this forcing those to question their government. In the end, Missing is a marvelous yet provocative film from Costas-Gavras.

Costas-Gavras Films: (The Sleeping Car Murders) - (Shock Troops) - Z - The Confession (1970 film) - (State of Siege) - (Special Section) - (Womanlight) - (Hanna K.) - (Family Business) - (Betrayed (1988 film)) - (Music Box) - (The Little Apocalypse) - (Mad City) - (Amen.) - (Le Couperet) - (Eden is West)

© thevoid99 2012

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