Saturday, February 27, 2010

#449: Missing

(Costa-Gavras, 1982)

Where has this movie been all my life?

I've long been interested in the US involvement in Latin America, and their (at best) complicity in or (at worst) orchestration of the Chilean coup that put Pinochet in charge is one of the most significant historical moments. This film takes a look at this moment in history through the eyes of a wife and a father who are trying to find their loved one, who went missing during the coup.

Costa-Gavras is famous for making "political films," his film Z, which is also in the Collection, is a masterpiece of procedural thrills. This film might be even better than that. I don't think I've ever seen a film that gives the viewer a better idea of what it must be like to be a bystander in a country that is being torn apart. The characters sit in caf├ęs as men come and take patrons away in military vehicles as women scream and cry. They sip water and barely flinch as the gunshots ring out around them. They huddle in corners when they get trapped out late after curfew to avoid being shot in the streets. For the lucky Americans, they desperately struggle to reach their embassy or someone in charge to get them safely out of the country. It's a riveting depiction, one that is a stark reminder of what stable government affords its citizens.

But the real treat of Missing is maybe the best performance I've ever seen by Jack Lemmon as the father. Sissy Spacek is wonderful, too, as the wife, but it's Lemmon's film. He is responsible for taking the viewer's journey into this unknown world. The film is his political awakening, just as it is meant to be ours, so he has to be stubborn and proud as the American who believes his government can do no wrong. He has to balance his slow realization that the embassy is not looking out for him with the heartbreak of a father losing his only child, while still making the transition seem believable and powerful. He does not disappoint. It's hard to imagine seeing a more tragic character out of Lemmon than the one he plays so beautifully in Glengary Glen Ross, but his performance here is so heartbreaking and natural that it's almost like America itself loses its glow during the course of the film.

This is another truly great film, one that shouldn't be overlooked by people who think Z is the only essential film in the director's catalog.

No comments:

Post a Comment