Oh, Ron Howard, where were you sixty years ago, when you could have directed a Randolph Scott B-movie western in which a tired old cowpoke comes home to the daughter he abandoned long ago, and the daughter's two little girls, just in time to find that the older one's been abducted by a renegade Indian and his pals, who plan to sell her across the border in Mexico, and you know what that means, and then leads daughter and granddaughter on the trail to recapture the abducted girl. Instead, here you are today, directing an A-list western in which a tired old cowpoke comes home to the daughter he abandoned long ago - no, wait; I just said that.
This time it's Tommy Lee Jones, who went off to live among the Chiricahua, Cate Blanchett the daughter who's mad as hell about it, Evan Rachel Wood as Lilly the abductee and Jenna Boyd as little Eva - no, I mean little Dot, who can ride like the wind and keep up with her mother and grandfather as they try to chase down renegade Indian Chidin (Eric Schweig) and his band of totally cruel kidnappers (except, no touching the girls). Right.
Well, it's a story. Except it's been done - a lot - by everyone from John Ford to Bud Boetticher, and they didn't take two and a half hours to tell it. Not only does "The Missing" tell an excruciating story, it's excruciating to watch it. Since we know in the first five minutes exactly what's going to happen, and who's going to do what to whom, the director's problem is to keep our attention from wandering. The only way Howard can think of to do it is with periodic bursts of villainy by Chidin, who uses his magic powder that he's gotten from dried rattlesnake venom to blind and then kill his victims.
So what will happen? Will Chidin die at the end? Will Jones find redemption in spite of the fact that his Chiricahua name means 'Shit for Luck'? And what exactly is a renegade Indian? How come there are never any renegade Jews (unless you count Ariel Sharon)? Or Norwegians? Or Episcopalians? I'm reporting these questions because they were helpful in passing the time while I watched "The Missing." But I don't have the answers.