One of the few Ron Howard movies of the past two decades to NOT turn a quick and healthy profit was 2003's The Missing, the director's own personal ode to the downbeat Western classics of yesteryear. Boasting a strong cast, but an anemic screenplay, and an enthusiastic approach to lensing in the great outdoors, The Missing might not be one of the guy's very best movies, but he sure gets points in my book for trying something a little more ... grown-up ... this time around.
A frontier mom is raising her two young daughters when one is kidnapped by a vicious gang of rogue villains, Apache scouts who've recently deserted their U.S. Army posts and are hightailing it down to Mexico with eight stolen girls. Frontier Mom must now swallow her pride, accept the assistance of her estranged (and kooky) father, and track down those thievin' varmints who done stoled her daughter!
Basically, The Missing is Ron Howard's John Ford impersonation, and the end result is as strangely schizophrenic as it sounds. First off, the thing's just too damn long. I get that Ronny's shooting for something like The Searchers here, but it takes more than a similar running time to hang with the big boys. (And the director's cut adds an extra 17 minutes, thereby creating a 154-minute movie that'd probably be better served by losing running time, and not adding it. There's a pretty tight-knuckled 102-minute movie hidden in here.)
But as is often the case in Ron Howard's movies, the morals, the messages, and the barely-hidden subtext are beaten home with a leaden hammer, plus the screenplay (by Space Cowboys writer Ken Kaufman) leaves little to no room for subtlety or nuance. The characters aren't allowed any depth, simply because their dialogue is so literal and on the nose.
Plus, for a movie that's supposed to be about a vengeful manhunt, The Missing sure does take its sweet time ambling around. Oh sure, the "estranged dad vs. embittered daughter" material is supposed to be the meat of the meal, which is why we're treated to so many extra scenes of people chit-chatting by firelight, but the dramatic push should come from the kidnapping story, and that chase just gets shoved into the background whenever the characters feel like conversing -- yet again.
For all its slow spots and predictability, The Missing isn't actually a terrible little flick, particularly if you're a diehard fan of the Western genre. It does offer a fantastic lead performance by Cate Blanchett, and Tommy Lee Jones could do the "gruff & grizzled tracker dude" in his sleep by now. Keep your eyes peeled for some extended cameo spice courtesy of Aaron Ecknart and Val Kilmer. Also worthy of note are the performances by the daughters: Evan Rachel Wood as the teenage hostage and Jenna Boyd as a strangely brave little girl. They're both quite good here.
(Extended Cut Notes: Most of the new material comes early in the film, and focuses on the backstory between the father and the daughter. You might also notice some extra stuff involving mountain lions, a tarantula, and a lengthy conversation on the nature of violence. Tune in for the director's commentary to see why this new stuff's been added. Frankly I think the theatrical cut is the better film.)
Video: It's a very crisp and lovely anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer. Ron Howard might not be the most visually majestic filmmaker out there, but it's tough to screw up landscapes like these ones.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English or DD Surround French. Optional subtitles are available in the same two languages. Audio quality is just dandy, even if most of what's coming through your speakers is talk.
Brand new to this edition is a feature-length audio commentary with director Ron Howard, and while the guy's undeniably pleasant and all kinds of gracious, he doesn't really give great commentary, all things considered. Scattered amidst some interesting anecdotes are huge gaps of silence and frequent doses of basic scene-explanation. It's not a terrible commentary, but it's not a terribly illuminating one, either.
Ported over from the previous DVD release is a collection of six interview sections called Ron Howard On.... The topics include (3:08), Editing (2:12), The Filmmaking Process (2:20), His Love for Westerns (1:50), Conventions of Westerns (2:55), and Home Movies (5:49). And speaking of home movies, this DVD is where you'll find three of little Ronny Howard's mega-old school Home Movies, and yes, they're all Westerns. Chuckle along at the ultra-early filmmaking genius of Ron Howard's The Deed of Daring Do (3:01), Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death... (2:11), and Old Paint (7:52).
Also included are the trailers for Freedomland and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
If you're a huge Ron Howard fan, I'd say this new package just might be worthy of a double dip. Between the newly extended cut, the all-new audio commentary, and the three goofy ol' home movies, you might have a pretty good time. Mild fans should just stick with the original DVD.