Posted: 11/17/2009


The Missing Person

by Del Harvey

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The Missing Person is the new film from writer/director Noah Buschel, whose earlier films include Bringing Rain and Neal Cassady. With The Missing Person, Buschel has crafted a moody neo noir whose title suggests a simple case of a private investigator tracking down someone for their client; but in truth, as it is with all good noirs, the title has a number of meanings, as we come to find out by the film’s end.

Michael Shannon stars as the depressed and alcoholic private eye, John Rosow. Rosow was a New York cop until the Trade Center bombings. His wife worked in one of the towers and as he raced to the scene in his police cruiser he listened to the frantic and manic screams of the rescuers as they reported the falling of the towers. Like many scenes in this film, the actor is silent while the action unfolds. It gives the viewer a sense of the torment his character is feeling at that moment; a simple technique many Hollywood films seem to have forgotten, of late.

As the film begins, Rosow is lying on his bed doing his two favorite things in all the world - drinking and smoking cigarettes. He receives a call from a lawyer named Drexel Hewitt who wants to hire him to tail a man from Chicago to Los Angeles. Rosow is reticent, whether out of boredom or irritation or if he just doesn’t care, we can’t tell. But just a few moments into the call his doorbell rings and he opens it to find an attractive woman in a business suit, Miss Charley (Amy Ryan), who invites herself in despite Rosow’s attire being only his boxers and a t-shirt. She hands him two envelopes. One has photos of his target; the other, a thick stack of money. After she leaves, Rosow’s still debating taking the job with Hewitt, until Hewitt tells him it’s worth $500,000 if he does the gig. Dressed as he is, sitting in his rat-hole fifteen-foot square apartment, Rosow suddenly runs out of arguments.

That afternoon, dressed in what is most likely his only suit and tie, he boards the train bound for Los Angeles and starts trailing his target.

Over the next few days our would-be hero finds he’s definitely a fish out of water as he stumbles around after the target, half-drunk, meeting a sexy woman in a bar (Margaret Colin), traipsing after the target into Mexico, and suddenly finding himself face-to-face with the business end of a gun as he stumbles upon something unusual south of the border.

Eventually, he traces the target back to the train and confronts him. He tells him why he’s been following him and what the man’s wife wants of him. That’s when the truth explodes before Rosow’s eyes. Seeking an explanation, he calls Miss Charley, who tells him they thought he would be a sympathetic soul, considering all that he had been through.

Rosow’s solution is not un-surprising, but it is thought-provoking, as is Buschel’s film. The moodiness, the slow pace, the deep and brooding shadows etched across his leading man’s features, all of these things combine to enhance the subtlety and complexity of The Missing Person.

Although the film begins slowly and, honestly, the pacing never really picks up all that much, what I took from this film was something more. Something more substantial. It is a small film, the production values are obviously stretching a dollar as far as it will go and still everything on the screen looks quite good. And there are only a few faces you’re likely to recognize.

But none of this is important in The Missing Person. What is important is the emotion, the raw sense of loss and how debilitating that can be. This comes through in Rosow’s character, in the character of his target, the millionaire wife who hires him, and even to some extent in Miss Charley. Ultimately, it is about honor and trying to make something good and decent of your life, no matter how mean-spirited the choices you’ve been given.

It is an impressive film and quite visually sharp and captivating. See The Missing Person; I’m sure there will be at least one actor nominated for an award come Oscar time.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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