Tragedy has a way of defining portions of our lives, almost in reverse. First comes the end of something – how things were before something terrible happened, and secondly comes the beginning – the start of something after that terrible thing. Truly tragic events split and fragment our previous life until we find a new way to move forward. Just as great love can humble and ground us, great loss can cause us to lose our footing in the world, so that we can no longer know who we are or who we were. In other words we can become a ‘missing person’.
Michael Shannon is John Rosow, a private dectective who is hired to tail a man on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles. Given very little information to work with at the start of the case, Rosow gradually comes to discover more information about the man he is following (Harold Fullmer), and at the same time more of Rosow’s character is revealed. Without spoiling any of the plot, I will say that the past experiences of Rosow and Fullmer intersect in a shared event that left me reflecting on who the title of the movie is actually referring to as ‘The Missing Person’.
The Missing Person explores the ways in which people can react in response to a personal tragedy. It is a film which takes a very human and real view of the emotional impacts of love and loss. At a broader level The Missing Person is a well-paced mystery story presented with a firm nod to the classic film noir style. Visually, the film is a wonderful mix of black and white, washed-out grainy textures and full colour reflecting the situation of our main character at that particular moment in time. The narrative doesn’t unfold freely from beginning to end, there is also very clever and tasteful use of flashbacks to add new dimensions to this already fascinatingly layered film. The cast is exceptionally strong, though the standout performances have to go to Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan.
The film seamlessly blends and contrasts the past and the present – old school detective work vs new technology, travelling by train vs travelling by plane, smoking and drinking excessively vs modern rules and acceptable social behaviour, tired femme fatales vs old-fashioned flirtation and romance…and the list goes on. Michael Shannon is the perfect ‘noir hero’ of this film, he is flawed, his humour is dry, he often seems out of place, and he knows how to charm. While the plot is built around tragedy and mystery, the film isn’t gloomy and miserable, it is a genuniely rewarding story with some really funny moments, and the jazz soundtrack is fabulous.
I watched The Missing Person at the Brisbane International Film Festival, so I’m not sure what kind of release the movie will be given in Australia once the film festival season is finished. With any luck it will be given wide release and more appreciators of fine film will be given the chance to see this wonderful, wonderful movie.