Directors' Showcase / European premiere

The Missing Person

  • Noah Buschel /
  • USA /
  • 2009 /
  • 95 mins

Michael Shannon, Frank Wood, Amy Ryan, Linda Emond, John Ventimiglia, Margaret Colin, Paul Sparks / Fiction / English

A witty, original and offbeat noir.

What is it about the tropes of classic film noir that are so reliably pleasurable? In real life, there'd be nothing particularly appealing about meeting a sleazy private dick with a mean sense of humour and an early-morning booze habit; but place that archetype in a dimly-lit film with a smoky sax on the soundtrack, and he can stir a nostalgic glow to which few movie buffs are immune. The frequent revival of noir trappings by hip young directors certainly constitutes grateful homage to early influences, but it also provides a useful means for them to pass social comment without sacrificing cynical wit or stylistic flair. Film noir has by convention served as a sort of receptacle for moral and political anxieties; the morose gumshoe stands slightly outside whatever ethical murk surrounds him, and yet is susceptible to it and soiled by it himself, making him an acceptable anti-hero for viewers not keen on being preached at. Thus Rian Johnson's high school noir Brick (2005) could address teenage violence without being pigeonholed as a tragic Columbine commentary, and Noah Buschel's The Missing Person can consider the psychic fallout from 9/11 without resorting to mawkish clichés about Ordinary Heroes and American Values. Our tough-talking protagonist here is John Rosow (Michael Shannon, a recent Oscar®-nominee for Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road). Initially, there's no indication that John's new case has anything to do with the demise of the Twin Towers: he thinks he's tracking a paedophile who's attempting to smuggle an underage kid to Mexico. The plot thickens considerably, however, as Rosow finds out more about his mark – and discovers disturbing echoes of his own recent past. Buschel's film doesn't stint on the big themes – loneliness, loss, post-traumatic stress and the effort to force goodness into a wicked world – but this skilled young writer/director leavens the mix with surreal humour, exquisitely witty dialogue and neat inversions of our expectations. Shannon, meanwhile, shows here that he's a major leading man waiting to happen. Playing a character who seems transposed from somewhere circa 1946 (he's baffled by cameraphones and California's anti-smoking laws), he's at once craggy, cool and endearingly naïve; we're wholly with this character even before we learn the tragic secret that made him how he is.

2009 Archive

Image from The Missing Person

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  • #1 Leona Campbell / Wednesday 24 June, 2009 / 20:32 GMT

    Michael Shannon gives a brilliant performance in this movie, he really carries the audience with him throughout the film and he makes you see every nuance in the story. Personally I didn't find any of the characters rounded enough to care emotionally about them, the story is watchable but it would have been great to have a couple of characters a bit more rounded to allow the audience to get a little more from the movie.
  • #2 Richard Dickson / Wednesday 24 June, 2009 / 23:58 GMT

    Great central performance from Shannon, who holds onto the audience...just. The film is a little irritating at parts, slow and a little too full of it's own poetry, to help you understand or care too much about what happens to the characters. The Director is obviously more keen on the pauses in a film, between dialogue and plot events, than character development. Still, he gave it atmosphere and if it had been trimmed by about 20 mins, or had those minutes filled with more story, it would have had enough pace to be a very watchable film.
  • #3 Lindsay Hutton / Thursday 25 June, 2009 / 20:45 GMT

    "The Missing Person" is the best (new) film I've seen in recent times.The last coming close being "Let The Right One In". It flows via twists and turns and if you want to see a noir-ish movie that doesn't just regurgitate old ground then this is just the ticket. Fans of "Old New York" will relish one sequence in particular. The person who "programmed" this deserves kudos for an excellent discovery.
  • #4 Caroline Armstrong / Friday 26 June, 2009 / 17:10 GMT

    I absolutely loved this film! It had exactly the right balance between film noir and more modern humour. The plot was deliberately hard to follow a la Raymond Chandler, and there were other cultural references in the soundtrack and hints at Edward Hopper's work.

    The 9/11 slant wasn't too over the top, just enough to add the backstory, bring the right emotions to the characters and enhance the theme without being overly 9/11ish.

    I'd recommend this film to everyone, it was absolutely fantastic.

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