'The Missing' isn't a Western in the traditional sense since there are no cowboys. There are however Indians who possess great prowess at practicing witchcraft, which is a shame since regular Indians would have worked just as fine, in fact better, allowing a more grounded approach. Complicating matters is the fact that the lead is played, very aptly, by a female.
That female is the talented, chameleon like Cate Blanchett who here not only has the arduous task of shouldering the responsibility of her two young daughters, but also a farm ranch and the implausibility of the situation she finds herself in. She plays Maggie, whose father Samuel (a grim faced and dispassionate Tommy Lee Jones) deserted her mother when she was an infant. This has made her forever resentful of his very presence and their severed relationship shows little sign of patching up when he abruptly returns one day to try and make amends. Of Maggie's two daughters, the younger, Dot is more accepting of her grandfather, while the older Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) is indifferent to all those around her, a natural extension of the age she finds herself in. When Lily is kidnapped by Apache Indians, Maggie is compelled to seek help from the one person whose existence she would rather not acknowledge, her father, himself an acclimatized Apache Indian.
Director Ron Howard has treaded this territory before, with far better results, in the much more tense 'Ransom'. The linear approach to storytelling that Howard and scribe Ken Kaufman settle for transforms this to a pedestrian tale, complete with the obligatory third act gun fight. Jones, clearly sleepwalking through his role, shifts between being either preposterous or convincing, depending on what tongue he's speaking. His scenes of sorcery brought more chuckles than concern. Howard, still seeking penance for having helmed 'How the Grinch stole Christmas' infuses 'The Missing' with random and sudden jolts of rampaging violence. The movie finds unsettling brutality in the way it lingers premeditatedly over scenes of death. Unable to prevent himself, Howard also infuses, inappropriately, small bouts of sentimentality to help chalk out the path for his audience.
Through it all, unfazed at the end, is the remarkable Cate Blanchett, here possessing equine features that emanate inner strength. It's amazing how naturally she is able to play British royalty in one film (Elizabeth) and an American woman slinging a gun in another. Never one to back off from a challenge, her role here only exalts viewers respect for her as a performer. Val Kilmer, as a US army Lieutenant briefly helping Maggie in her expedition and Aaron Eckhart, her clandestine lover, have smaller roles, being more than simple cameos but less than true supporting players.
In his attempt to diversify and try out his luck with the Western, Howard shoots beautifully. But Instead of applauding Howard and crew for their mystical approach to the traditional Western, which feels alien here, one ends up taunting them. - Faizan Rashid