Missing (1982)

Superb political mystery-thriller that is stimulating, and featuring magnetic performances from Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Costa-Gavras
1982 | USA/Mexico | Biography/Drama/History | 122 mins | 1.85:1 | English, Spanish & French
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron
Plot: When an idealistic writer disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile, his wife and American businessman father try to find him.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or & Best Actor (Cannes); Won Best Adapted Screenplay & Nom. for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress (Oscars)
Distributor: Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion DVD
First Published: 11 Feb 2012
Spoilers: No


Most remember Costa-Gavras as a daring filmmaker, a creative artist willing to push the boundaries of what cinema is capable of in its pursuit of truth. Long before the likes of Oliver Stone or even Michael Moore, Costa-Gavras has already made his fair share of politically-driven films.

Two of them are a testament of his skill as a filmmaker and his courage to explore and expose dirty politics – Z (1969), the film that won Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars, launching his international career, and Missing, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Starring legendary actor Jack Lemmon, and first-rate actress Sissy Spacek as Ed and Beth Horman respectively, Missing is a captivating dramatization of a true incident that occurred during the 1973 coup in Chile that left thousands dead in tragic circumstances.

Ed, a shrewd businessman and father of Charles (John Shea), flies down to the volatile country to find his missing son. He meets Beth, Charles’ wife, as they set out in determined fashion to uncover the hidden truth behind Charles’ mysterious disappearance. What they find, and as you will see, is a disturbing look at the worst of politics, people in power, and everything in between.

“You Americans, you always assume you must do something before you can be arrested.”

Missing is a competently shot film, and engages us through the way Costa-Gavras moves the camera. Combining a gritty, documentary style in its depiction of the armed military rule in the film’s exterior shots, with a more settling and intimate style for its lead characters, Missing is not only an absorbing political thriller, but also a surprisingly emotional drama.

The director does not lose sight of the inherent human drama amid the chaos and destruction, allowing us to empathize with Ed and Beth. Lemmon and Spacek’s magnetic performances provide an introspective depth to the events that unfold in the film, affording us some clarity even as the truth continues to elude them.

By leveraging on a personal victimization, Costa-Gavras probes into the larger picture that is the Chilean coup. The question he is asking is: Did the American government played any part in the instigation of the armed conflict? And on an even more serious note, did the American government know and cause the disappearance of a fellow American citizen?

Conspiracy theories are tossed around like a beach ball, and like the best political thrillers, they incite controversy. And yes, Missing is a controversial film. Its epilogue sequence doesn’t fuel fire, but ends on a quiet, reflective note. And that is enough to make an impact.

Grade: A-


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