Saturday, November 21, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Missing Person

The Missing Person
Directed by Noah Buschel
Released November 20, 2009

Private detectives aren’t known for their social skills. Part of what makes them so effective is the lack of any ties to family or friends, and an understood unscrupulousness which allows them to bend the law to their advantage. Yet there’s hardly ever been a private detective quite as unmotivated, distasteful, and lazy as John Rosow, the protagonist on the case in Noah Buschel’s new film “The Missing Person.”

Rosow appears at the start of the film lying on his bed, determined to stay there forever. The ringing of his phone interrupts his plan of eternal idleness, and he’s quickly roped into hopping aboard a train and following a mysterious man at the behest of a mysterious caller who seems to know a whole lot about him. He’s hardly in control of his life, but it’s not as if he really cares, exempting the fact that he’s required to actually get up and do something. Rosow’s profession is one of solitude, and therefore it’s no surprise that the few people he does meet along the way are just as crooked and deceitful as he is. The title might better be applied to Rosow himself, hopelessly missing from and dislodged from society, than to the man Rosow is charged with finding.

Behind the character of Rosow is actor Michael Shannon, who broke out last year with a surprise Oscar nomination for his small role in “Revolutionary Road.” That performance was filled with anger, resentment, and indignation which Shannon channeled into violent outbursts at Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Shannon doesn’t share the screen in this film with actors anywhere near as talented, with the exception of Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone,” “The Office”), who gives what’s most certainly the worst and most regrettable performance of her career in a poorly-written role. Shannon does imbue Rosow with the same characteristics as he in “Revolutionary Road,” but keeps them inside instead of lashing out at everyone he meets. The immense effort he puts in to conceal his thoughts and desires is visible on his face, and every pained expression and word takes Shannon what feels like minutes to convey. It’s a despicable exercise in overacting, and every time Shannon squints his eyes to prepare to utter another word, the smart thing to do is duck and run for cover.

Beyond its lead performer, who inhabits nearly every scene, it’s difficult to discuss why “The Missing Person” fails so flagrantly without giving away the major secret of the film. It’s not worth spoiling because moviegoers who do deign to see the film should at least have one good surprise in store for them. Simply put, it’s a gross mistreatment of a subject that should be altogether much more delicately-handled, and Rosow is hardly a fitting vehicle for the topic. This film wants to be something it’s not – a jaded film about love for New York and distaste for the rest of the world. The casting of restaurateur Artie Bucco from “The Sopranos” as a nostalgic New York-born cop Rosow encounters in Los Angeles is like being shaken repeatedly to get across the point that this he is the typical New Yorker. It’s like everything in “The Missing Person,” exaggerated and poorly executed. This is one case that really isn’t worth following.


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