"Missing" people

Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon in the extraordinary Missing (dir. Costa-Gavras, 1982), a real “I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this before!” movie.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a trenchant political film that’s so elegantly made; the movie’s politics arise out of its characters and situations as opposed to being imposed on them from above.  And it occurred to me while watching Spacek’s particularly luminous performance here what an incredible run of films she had from 1973-1986: playing the almost pre-natal Holly in Terrence Malick’s Badlands in 1973 (during which she met her husband, production designer Jack Fisk); starring in one of the horror genre’s great roles in Carrie (dir. Brian de Palma, 1976); appearing with Shelley Duvall and Missing co-star Janice Rule in Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977); playing Loretta Lynn—and winning a Best Actress Oscar for it—in Coal Miner’s Daughter (dir. Michael Apted 1980); getting two more Oscar nominations for The River (dir. Mark Rydell, 1984) and Crimes of the Heart (dir. Bruce Beresford, 1986); and holding her own against Anne Bancroft in ’night, Mother (dir. Tom Moore, 1986).  And here, doing a deft pas de deux with the great Jack Lemmon as Beth Holman, the wife of an American writer living in Chile who mysteriously disappeared during the 1973 coup.  It’s a beautifully modulated performance that sounds a wide range of notes—anger, fear, love, desperation, confusion—and it plays off against Lemmon’s own powerhouse turn as Beth’s strait-laced, quietly shaken father-in-law.  Missing is a stunningly humanistic political film in which the people, not the politics, drive the action.   

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