Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Missing Person

2009 Sundance Film Festival
★ ★ ★
The last great film noir was A Touch of Evil, made 51 years ago. But the genre has never lost its allure and every now and then a filmmaker attempts a neo-noir, some succeeding famously (Chinatown, Body Heat) but most lacking the soul of the classic noirs from the 40’s and 50’s.

In The Missing Person, director Noah Buschel tries valiantly to recreate the original genre. First, the classic protagonist: Hot star Michael Shannon (Reservation Road) plays John Rosow, a chain-smoking, gin-soaked private detective living in a run-down apartment next to the Chicago L. Then the familiar set-up. A stranger calls and offers way too much money to do what sounds like a simple job. And finally, the twisted tale: Rosow, a former street-smart New York cop, smells something rotten, but is spurred by the money and the conviction that he will be able to outplay the other players.

Shannon makes an intriguing protagonist, grizzled and degenerate but with just enough heart and humanity to make him sympathetic. Unfortunately, the weight of the movie falls entirely on his shoulders. The plot winds its way, with a steady stream of surprises and revelations, but none of them particularly compelling. The secondary characters, especially the perfunctory love-interest, are underdeveloped. And so, despite Shannon’s heroic efforts, the film stumbles, and ultimately is tripped up by incredulity and apathy.

Despite these criticisms, film noir lovers will still find enough to enjoy in The Missing Person to make it worth watching. Just don’t expect Orson Welles.

Sundance Note: I saw Michael Shannon in two Sundance movies in one day. Unexpectedly, he also played a relatively minor role in The Greatest.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review missed the point of the movie, in my opinion.
It wasn't about recreating the original genre at all. It was about turning the genre on it's head.
The Missing Person takes our expectations of noir and flatlines them. I think it's a brilliant film. But yes, for those who are just looking for A Touch Of Evil, look elsewhere. This movie is new.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Hmmm... I thought the plot of The Missing Person was actually more like classic noir than most of the neo-noirs of the past 50 years. Plus, Rosow's protaganist reminded me of Sterling Hayden's Dix Handley in the Asphalt Jungle, maybe crossed with Sam Spade.

It felt more like a modern noir remake than something groundbreaking, like Brick, which despite its low low budget, really "turns the genre on its head." Or terrific films like Chinatown or LA Confidential I think show a lot more innovation in the genre.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but the plot was besides the point. The plot was just the window dressing for The Missing Person.

Brick? Brick was a movie that moved along at whiplash pace like old noirs. The only thing that was new about Brick was that it took place in teenage world. But that is just a surface thing. The Missing Person actually slows and quiets the noir pacing to almost a standstill. So much so, that by the time we get to the most dramatic scenes, they are underplayed and tiny and muted. It was fascinating to me, a long time noir fan.

As far as bringing up Chinatown, I mean-- why bother? That was a studio film made for gazillions of dollars. It is the great neo-noir ever, but why compare it to a small, art film that is subverting the genre? The Missing Person was indie made for under two million I believe.

As far as L.A. Confidential, you can keep that one. Like Brick, it is all style.

Anyhow, agree to disagree. Keep up the good work.

4:58 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home