I'd like to spank the Academy

Missing (1982)

Missing_1982_filmDirected by Costa-Gravas

As I’ve been watching these Oscar-nominated movies, there have been many, especially from the 1970s and 1980s, that I haven’t really known anything about. Some of them have been less than stellar, and I can understand why they have fallen by the wayside, even for someone like me who likes watching good movies, no matter how old they are or what language they are in. Missing is not one of those movies. Missing is so awesome I want to show it to everyone I know, and I’ve been telling random people how sad I am that no one seems to have seen it. Missing makes me want to be a high school history or civics teacher so that I could show it to my class to teach them not to be too trusting of government. It makes me so mad that Missing is not a classic; it completely deserves to be one.

So what’s the story? Charlie and Beth Harmon are an idealistic young married couple who have been living in Chile for a couple of years when a right-wing coupe happens. They are going to leave the country soon, so Beth goes to say good-bye to a couple of friends. She gets stuck overnight because of the curfew. When she finally makes it home, Charlie is gone. About two weeks after his disappearance, Charlie’s conservative businessman father, Ed Horman, comes to help Beth navigate the waters of diplomacy and bureaucracy. What they find out together will change their lives forever.

The Good: I’m tired of starting with acting, so I’m going to start with music today. Vangelis’s score is beautiful and haunting. It’s more orchestral than the music in Chariots of Fire, and where he does use the synthesizer, it fits the time much better. The other thing that is great about the music is that it is not constant. Lots of the movie has no music, so that where there is music, it has a much greater impact.

The acting is wonderful. Sissy Spacek is wonderful as Beth, who changes from a vibrant, loving young woman to a frantic wife to a jaded and accepting woman in the course of just a few weeks. It’s a marvelous performance. Jack Lemmon is fantastic as Ed, who starts out so convinced that he’ll be able to fix everything with connections, but slowly comes to realize the truth. I’ve only ever seen Jack Lemmon in comedies, so this was a revelation. John Shea plays idealistic, happy-go-lucky Charlie. He’s not in the movie much, but he leaves an impact when his character is gone. Government agent Captain Ray Tower is played rather chillingly by Charles Cioffi. He’s so scary in part because he’s so friendly, but you can tell he’s hiding the truth.

This is going to sound silly, but the set decoration was so clever at one point. Beth and Ed are at the US Embassy, trying to get answers about what happened to Charlie. The US Ambassador is telling them that he’s probably in hiding and that they shouldn’t worry about him. While he is talking to them, he is standing directly under a picture of Richard Nixon. This movie takes place in 1973, so Nixon was the president then, but by the time Missing was made in 1982, everyone knew that Nixon was a liar. To see a man appointed by that president standing underneath him subtly, yet effectively, underscored the fact that the ambassador was also a liar.

The screenplay was very good. It made the characters come alive. It also made the movie completely gripping. I was so angry that I had to stop watching to go to work. I wanted to know what happened, and I wanted to know NOW! It was fantastic.

I have no concrete examples of why I felt this way, but I though the directing was very good. It’s hard to define good directing, because it’s hard for me to know how much of a hand the director had in various aspects of the movie, but I really felt good directing at play here.

The Bad: The only complaint I have is that Beth and Charlie’s friend Terry has 1980s poufy hair. As a free-spirited 1970s woman, Terry’s hair should have been longer and straighter. I know, tiny quibble. But it bothered me.

The Ugly: War is always ugly, and there are some shocking images and situations in this movie. It’s not the easiest movie to watch because of this, and also because this is a true story. Art that is great tends to bring up issues that might make people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that these issues should be ignored. I think it’s better for people to know what is wrong in their world than to believe that everything is perfect when corruption is hiding underneath.

Oscar Won: Best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Jack Lemmon); best actress in a leading role (Sissy Spacek).

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