Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Noah Buschel's THE MISSING PERSON opens; Shannon, Ryan & Colin shine

Boy, does tempus fugit. Seems like only yesterday that one of our (& many others') favorite actors, who has only been on the radar for the past three or four years, is already deeply into middle age. Michael Shannon -- who seemed to appear out of nowhere in Bug (even if you despised that movie, as I did, it's hard to nay-say Shannon's perfor-
mance) and then drew more notice in

Shotgun Stories and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, finally garnering an Academy nomination for his work in Revolutionary Road -- has actually been working (as Mike Shannon) in TV and in films like Jesus' Son and Cecil B. De-
Mented since the early 1990s.

More haggard and bleak than his 35 years would indicate, Shannon looks like shit in the new film by Noah Buschel (shown at left) called THE MISSING PERSON. Yet he provides both center and ballast for this tale of an alcoholic private detective given a bizarre missing-person case which ends up producing not just a solution but a kind of solace for him and almost everyone else involved in the film's twisty plot.

For a would-be, hard-boiled detective movie, this one has the feel but not the look of film noir. There's little shadow and darkness on view; the shot of actress Linda Emond, right, is one of the rare visual "noir-ities" present. In fact, whether due to budgetary restrictions or directorial choice, the cinematography often looks a little light and bleached (like the shot of Shannon with John Ventimiglia, below). The dialog, Chandler-esque but not slavishly so, is smart, crisp and sometimes funny, and the film also offers a lovely, surreal dream sequence that packs an interesting mix of family history, psychology and beauty into its short space.

The Missing Person is an odd -- and oddly graceful -- movie: mysterious, all right, but almost without villains. Its characters tend to be damaged, though not beyond repair. The plot, like certain other famous noirs, doesn't always make sense in any straightfor-
ward way. Yet it coheres emotionally, and in its use of 9/11, the movie does things that few other films have yet managed (The Great New Wonderful is one such). Although that dreadful day is a kind of disguised centerpiece here, Buschel comes to it only glancingly so that the effect is one of gradual surprise and feelings-pieced-together rather than any big-league emotional event.

The movie makes use of a wonderful jazz score (the musical supervision is by Jim Black), and Buschel seems himself a kind of jazz filmmaker: eliptical, moody, with a nice sense of humor and fun. And his cast does him proud. Shannon, on-screen most of the time, carries his weight beautifully, leading us along with him as he learns and grows. The women in his life are played by the wonder-
ful Amy Ryan (shown at bottom) and Margaret Colin (shown below with Shannon). Frank Wood lends oddness and gravity to the title role, Emon handles her few moments with expected perspicacity as his wife, Ventimiglia is aces (as usual) as a helpful cab driver, and Paul Sparks makes a credibly conflicted best friend.

It's tempting (and easy) to oversell a movie like The Missing Person. Rather, I'll just suggest that you try it. It left me in a very happy state, a few inches off the ground from the sheer pleasure of seeing such a tricky project -- the neo-noir detective film -- handled so unusually and so well.

Strand Releasing -- from whom the hits just keep on coming (my kind of hits, that is: small, interesting but little seen foreign and independent fare like Give Me Your Hand, The Wedding Song and Peter and Vandy) -- is releasing the film this Friday, November 20, in NYC (at the Village East 7), and a week later in L.A. (at Laemmle's Sunset 5). Appearances are expected to follow soon in: Irvine (also on 11/27), Detroit (12/18), San Francisco (12/25), Denver (1/8/10), San Diego (1/22/10), Chicago (2/12/10).


Anonymous said...

Great review of a great movie. Well done.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Anon. I hope enough folk traipse to the theater so that they'll hold it over for a week or so.