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Missing is a classic American Drama film, released in the year 1982. The film is directed by Costa Gavras and it stars Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek and Melanie Mayron in lead roles, ably supported by John Shea and Charles Cioffi. The film is produced by Edward Lewis and Mildred Lewis; its script is handled by Donald Stewart and Costa Gavras. The music (which received wide appreciation), was composed by innovative Greek composer Vangelis. Distributed by Universal Pictures, the film runs to two hours.

The script is based on the true story of an American scribe Charles Horman, whose mysterious disappearance in the wake of the Chilean coup of 1973 sets up the crux of the narrative. In this US supported coup, incumbent President Salvador Allende was overthrown by Right-wing forces and the military. At the time of its release, the film attracted controversy due to its honest handling of political realities. Although Chile was never directly referred to in the film, the mention of major cities like Vina del Mar and Santiago surely gives away the identity of the country. Since it portrayed the United States of America in a negative cast, it met with stringent criticism in the Western press. Since the film is an adaptation of a real life story, it contains elements of both drama and documentary genres.

Barring the controversies and lawsuits that it attracted, the film is a successful product overall. Director Costa Gavras’s chief intention in the film is not so much to make political statements as it is to convey the human drama surrounding the disappearance of journalist Charles Horman. The script closely adheres to the factual details presented in the original book verstion of the name, ‘The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice’ first published in 1978. There are hints left by the director that the indifference of the American government in taking swift search and rescue operation had perhaps caused his ultimate demise. Such an assessment certainly did not go down well with officials in Washington D.C., it triggered a debate in media outlets across the country. The film also shows the nature of major bureaucracies and how they can frustrate and disappoint legitimate concerns of citizens.

The father and mother of the missing journalist, played by Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek respectively, deliver a stand out performance in depicting their anxieties and apprehensions in the wake of their son’s sudden disappearance. It was Beth Horman, who first makes a vain attempt by contacting the American consulate in the hope of locating her son’s whereabouts. Later, Charles travels all the way to New York to persuade the authorities to pursue their son’s case. In the end, it turns out that Beth’s sceptical attitude with authorities and government institutions is closer to truth than that of Charles’. The latter, for example was shown to be naive in trusting official utterances and promises. Their unsuccessful search to locate and rescue their son makes the story a tragedy. But credit has to be given to director Gavras in not stretching a genuine tragedy into a melodrama.

The film also implicitly exposes the powerlessness of individual citizens in a population in dealing with major governmental institutions. Individuals confronting personal losses easily grow disgruntled with their own governments. And the United States is shown to be no exception to this rule, as both Beth and Charles find it near impossible to get their requests heeded. The fact that Charles Horman was ‘executed’ Chilean authorities with the complicity of American diplomats validates citizens’ grievances against governments. As movie reviewer Vincent Canby notes in his article for the New York Times,

“It is the belief of Mr. Costa-Gavras, as well as of Thomas Hauser, the lawyer who wrote the book on which the film is based, that young Mr. Horman was executed by Chilean authorities, probably with the tacit approval of some United States representatives on the scene, because he had knowledge of United States involvement in the military coup that had overthrown the Marxist government of Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens, the Chilean President” (Canby, 1982)

It is a genuine reflection of the merit of the film that it was nominated under several categories in the year’s Academy Awards. It rightly won the award for best Writing Adapted Screenplay and richly deserved nominations in Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and Best Picture categories. More importantly, it on the Golden Palm award in Cannes Film Festival of the same year. The other technical aspects of the film, such as cinematography or editing are nearly not as perfect. But the strong script line and emphasis on right areas compensate for these small shortcomings.

Works Cited:

Movie Review, Missing (1982), NYT Critics’ Pick, ‘MISSING’ BY COSTA-GAVRAS’ By VINCENT CANBY, Published: February 12, 1982, retrieved from < http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9507E7D7123BF931A25751C0A964948260> on 25th June, 2011

Missing (1982), A review by Damian Cannon., Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997, retrieved from on 25th June, 2011

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