Oscar Vault Monday – Missing, 1982 (dir. Costa-Gavras)
I think it’s important to first point out that this film is based on a true story. Journalist Charles Horman was one of the victims of the Chilean coup of 1973 led by General Augusto Pinochet, that deposed the socialist president, Salvador Allende. The coup was, in part, secretly backed by the United States government. The book on which this film was based came out in 1978 and this film was released in 1982, but the classified documents that prove that the events depicted in both are true were not released until 1999. I find this whole back story insanely interesting and if you’d like to read more about it, the Wikipedia article on Horman has a lot of information and links to further reading. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning one: Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Actress Sissy Spacek, Best Actor Jack Lemmon and Best Picture. Strangely, Costa-Gavras was not nominated for Best Director (Wolfgang Petersen got nominated for Das Boot, while the film was not up for Best Picture). The other nominees for Best Picture that year were E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Tootsie, The Verdict and winner Gandhi.
You know, I like Gandhi and I can understand why it won Best Picture (epic biopic of one of the most important figure from the 20th century), but I think Missing is a better film. It shocks me that this film was a studio-backed picture. It’s the kind of controversial film that studios usually avoid. And rightfully so; the studio’s parent company MCA and Costa-Gavras were sued by the ambassador and two other that are depicted int he film. As a result the film and the book on which it’s based were removed from the market until the suit was dismissed.
It’s such a raw, powerful film. Which I suppose is not too surprising coming from Costa-Gavras, who’s 1969 film Z (also based on true political events) was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two. Missing was well received at the time it was released and even won the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Jack Lemmon was also reward the Best Actor award from the festival. I am really surprised that Ricardo Aronovich’s cinematography was not nominated by the Academy. I think because the way the film was shot, the pace and excellent editing this film would not feel dated at all. That is, if it weren’t for its score by Vangelis, who had a year earlier won the Academy Award for Best Score for Chariots of Fire. I don’t think any composer sounds more “80s” than Vangelis. Luckily, the score doesn’t detract too much from the quality of the film.
Jack Lemmon received his last of eight Academy Award nominations (he won twice), for his performance as Horman’s father Ed. He lost the award to Ben Kingsley in Gandhi (again, there was just no way Kingsley could lose playing Gandhi). In the last year I’ve seen a lot of Lemmon’s films that I hadn’t previously seen and I definitely think this is Lemmon at his finest. He is so subtle and yet so powerful in this role. I can’t imagine anyone doing what Lemmon did with this role. Subtle performances often get overlooked, so I guess I’m glad at least that he got nominated for this performance. Really though, if you are a fan of Lemmon you owe it to yourself to watch this film.
Sissy Spacek received her third of six Best Actress nominations for her performance as Horman’s wife Beth (she won the award for 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter). Spacek is devastating in this role. We see a little bit of what Beth is like prior to her husband’s disappearance, a little meek and timid. We then see her after her husband’s been gone a week and the government that is supposed to help her has been giving her the run-around. At this point she is far from timid; she doesn’t even try to hide her disdain and distrust of the government officials. She has this look on her face towards the end of the film, I can’t give you much context without spoiling the film, that is just too perfect.
I’ll have to admit when the film started and I saw that Charles Horman was played by John Shea I got really excited. Shea is probably best known, or at least to me, for playing Lex Luthor in the 90s television show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Shea is wonderful in the limited screen time he’s given. He almost has this childlike innocence in his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. You understand why he continually asks questions, but at the same time you know the danger he’s in more than he does, so you keep thinking to yourself “Get out!” After his disappearance, Shea pops in and out of the film as Lemmon and Spacek try to piece together his last few days, and the result is this feeling that Shea is almost a spectre that haunts the film, much as the memory of Horman will haunt those who knew him.
The final image of the film is probably the most haunting image in the whole film. It sticks with you long after the credits finish their run.
Criterion has a really great release of this film, if you’re interested in owning it you can purchase it here. P.S. don’t forget to vote for Cinema Fanatic at the 2011 Total Film Blog Awards!