Recent Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) has a face built for noir. With his sharp angles and sad eyes, he looks like he could have stepped out of a film in the 1940s and he practically has in the very unusual The Missing Person, a film that can't easily be contained in one genre. Is it a spoof of noir films? A mind trip like David Lynch might make? A straight-faced noir? All (or none) of the above? The Missing Person is a film that's very hard to put a finger on, which is both one of its greatest strengths and something of a weakness. It's almost defiantly unusual, as if it sprouted from its star's unique screen persona. Given that fact, Shannon is the main strength of the piece and fans of his should definitely check it out, but the moments that do undeniably work are overshadowed by a general feeling that the film just isn't quite clicking the way it could or should have, amplified by a final act that simply gets away from everyone involved.
Former cop and current private investigator, John Rosow (Michael Shannon) is woken up by a ringing phone. On the other end is an attorney with a job for him. Get to the train station and tail a man from Chicago to Los Angeles. Immediately, the attorney's assistant (Amy Ryan) arrives with a suitcase of money and more information on the unusual job. Shot with a grainy super-16 and with Shannon's mumbling, lurching style, The Missing Person feels something like a dream, but it's more the story of a man waking from his own scuzzy, dark, alcoholic life through a very unusual case.
Rosow boards the train and finds his target, Harold Fullmer (Frank Wood), travelling out in the open with a young child. Who is this man? Who is the child? If he's worth being followed, why is he travelling so openly? After they get to Los Angeles (and writer/director Noah Buschel plays with even more fish-out-of-water elements like cab drivers who won't just follow a guy because the passenger asks him to), Rosow slowly uncovers Harold's story, one that will take him back to New York and force him to make a tough decision about the fate of both his case and his own life.
Buschel is clearly trying to use an outdated film archetype to comment on differences between the centuries. With Rosow's anachronistic style, evidenced mostly by his desire to smoke absolutely everywhere, it's as if the tragedy of 9/11 threw him back into the last century instead of into the new one. At times, The Missing Person seems to play like a time-travelling comedy as our Chandler-esque hero doesn't understand that phones can take photographs, ridicules a cop on a Segway, tells bad jokes, and calls women "missy." Gradually, we learn that Rosow has a reason for diving into the past and that he shares a common tragedy with the man he's following, but that reason feels forced.
Ultimately, Shannon is too interesting an actor to ignore, but the script for The Missing Person is frustrating, as the revelations about Rosow's "condition" and the complex back story of his case become less and less interesting. When The Missing Person becomes a post-9/11 commentary, it feels like Buschel has bitten off far more than he can chew and that his hybrid film has warped genres at least one too many times. Going from noir to comedy to existential drama is a tightrope-walking act that the filmmaker can't quite pull off. It's an ambitious film that nearly works because of what Shannon and a strong supporting cast of recognizable faces bring to it, but it never comes together. There's too much missing.
Rating: TWO BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)