Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Missing

MPAA Rating: R for violence

Reviewed by: Todd Campbell
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature teens and Adults
Genre:
Western Drama
Length:
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
2003
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Relevant Issues

murder in the Bible

death

FILM VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

fornication in the Bible

PURITY—Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, Jenna Boyd | Directed by: Ron Howard | Produced by: Brian Grazer, Daniel Ostroff | Distributor: Revolution Studios

Magdalena “Maggie” Gilkenson is a healer, a rancher, and a mother of two who has her hands full taking care of her family in 1885 New Mexico, even with the help of her lover and a Mexican ranch hand. Her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives after twenty years of absence and seeks her healing touch. She treats him but orders him off her ranch, given his neglect of her for so long.

While branding the new calves, her lover and the ranch hand are murdered and her daughter Lily is kidnapped. Thinking that her father is the culprit, Maggie heads to town where the sheriff notifies the proper authorities but does little else, forcing Maggie to take matters into her own hands and set off with her Apache-saavy father and her spunky daughter Dot to find Lily and hopefully rescue her. The Gilkensons follow right behind the Apache witch who is collecting women to sell as slaves to comancheros in Mexico, but as they draw nearer to saving Lily, minor mishaps occur which make things even harder to rescue Lily and the other girls from their captors.

Morality Issues

The language in the movie is somewhat mild, with a few sexual references and the use of the s-word in a few places, but in general, the language is not as strong as it would have been with most directors. Some will find the scenes of Native American shamanism/witchcraft offensive, but the scenes are usually brief.

Some sexuality is presented such as the attempted rape of one of the captive women and the suggestion that Maggie became pregnant with Lily as a result of a rape. “She’s a Christian woman,” or so says Maggie’s lover and right hand man on the ranch, but she and the man are not married, though his marriage proposals have been rejected. Some sexuality is hinted at between the captives and their kidnappers, but most of it is either talk or attempts. In this regard, the Native Americans are portrayed as being more respectful of the women than their Caucasian counterparts who treat the women horribly.

The violence is a bit more than what one would expect from a Western. (This movie really is a Western, despite what the commercials make it appear.) A number of people are shot, a couple of knife fights occur, and two people are beaten to death with a large bone while others are cut with claws that have been dipped in rattlesnake poison. Perhaps the most disturbing image is the remnant of what happened to Maggie’s lover, shown in the beginning of the movie, when he was apparently wrapped in a cowhide bag and set over a bonfire to roast to death. One person is beaten to death by the Apache kidnappers and his body is left on the rocks. In the scenes where a person is beaten to death, the scene usually shifts so we don’t see the actual blows but merely the action of them, with a bloody bone mallet being the only evidence of the actual violence. A young mother commits suicide over the death of her baby girl. One person’s heart is supposedly cut out, but we never see the heart, only a buried pink bag that supposedly contains the heart. In one scene, a young child is endangered by rattlesnakes suspended from tree branches.

Spiritual Issues

Marriage is treated as a somewhat important concept in this movie, though the Native Americans show greater reverence to their families than do the Gilkensons. Maggie’s father left her when she was fairly young and apparently led a less than savory life among the tribes he spent time with; he returns to her to ease his soul. Even the Native Americans saw the man as worthless because he had no family, which suggests one Biblical link that a man’s greatest responsibility is to support his family, an obligation second only to loving God with his entire being. Maggie, on the other hand, refuses to marry her top ranch hand, so she lives with him instead, having sex with him only when her daughters are asleep and cannot hear them.

A person’s family is an incredibly precious gift from God, and we should be thankful that we have a family. Lily learns this lesson as early in the movie she comments that she “was born in the wrong family” and that she’s going to leave them as soon as she can. Lily’s character comes across as a spoiled teenager, except that she is still forced to do chores around the house, like field dressing deer and branding the new cattle, though she wears her Sunday best when she helps out. Lily realizes the power of family, seemingly too late to appreciate them.

Another spiritual issue that plays more in the commercials than in the movie is the concept of witchcraft. The bruja/witch in the movie does little more than cast curses on two people and harness rattlesnake venom to make his weapons more deadly; otherwise the “medicine man” concept is nothing, though the scenes with the witch are somewhat disturbing visually since he usually has rattlesnakes around him. Of the two people who were cursed, only Maggie did not suffer significantly from the fatal effects of the curse placed on her.

Maggie, being a “Christian woman,” wears a cross for most of the movie, but her obvious lack of faith in Christ is what caused her to suffer from the curse, not her lack of faith in Native American medicine. Had Maggie been a true Christian, a woman who was willing to forgive her father for abandoning her so long ago, a woman who did not sleep with a man who was not her husband, then she might not have felt any effects from the curse since God protects us all and has a purpose for everything in our lives. Still, the scene where her father, their Native American friend, and Dot are chanting/praying over her is intriguing because they combine Native American ways with passages from the Gospels.

God’s power is almighty and everlasting; who is mightier than our God? None, regardless of culture or belief system, for God is our sole/soul protection from evil and the dangers the enemy tries to inflict. To an extent, this movie reminded me somewhat of Job who lost his possessions, his family, and his health, but still he would not curse God.

Opinion

Overall, I thought this movie was going to be heavy in the shamanism/medicine man material, but it proved to be a true shoot ’em up Western, very similar to “The Searchers” (1956) or “The Shadow Riders,” with bits of “Unforgiven” thrown in for good measure. I would recommend, with reservations, this movie to older fans of Westerns, especially since Hollywood rarely produces any good Westerns with little language, little sex, and the traditional cowboy violence. Do not bring children to this movie. [Remember, it is rated “R”.]

Violence: Moderate | Profanity: Mild | Sex/Nudity: Mild

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—The Missing is a very well-made movie in that you are drawn into an emotional involvement with the characters and the story. I exited the theater in a very somber mood because of the dark themes of the movie. It is appropriately rated R for its theme of female slavery and for its violence and cruelty; there is no nudity and I don’t remember any objectionable language. While I liked the movie, I can’t say I “enjoyed” the movie. On just a thumbs up/thumbs down basis, I give it a thumbs up, but only for movie-going adults.

From a Christian viewpoint it has objectionable themes. Tommy Lee Jones’ character has lived with Indians and has adopted their religious beliefs and practices, including a mystical communication with some animals. The most objectionable theme is presented in a scene where an Indian witch uses something akin to voodoo to cast a curse on Maggie. The curse is defeated with Indian remedies (a curse-protecting necklace, incense, and incantations) and also Bible reading. The critics will undoubtedly rave over this movie because it is so well-made and because it is multi-cultural, implying that Indian religious practices are equivalent to Christianity.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Dennis Urbaniak, age 49
Positive—“The Missing” was a good movie, but I was expecting something more dynamic from Ron Howard. …Cate Blanchett is a wonderful actress and does a great job with the material here. …Tommy Lee Jones does a good job in his role as her estranged father, but it is nothing he has done before. I admired the movie having women playing the hero and not just victims. The violence can be brutal in this film and many viewers will find Christianity mixed with Native American spiritualism a little disturbing. While Maggie (Blachett) is portrayed as a devout Christian woman, she is having sex with a man who helps run her ranch who isn’t her husband. Thankfully, the filmmakers stop short of having to film sex and nude scenes.

Overall, it is a good movie. It isn’t Howard’s best film, but is still well made and well acted, especially by Cate Blanchett.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Scott, age 28
Neutral
Neutral—A movie like “The Missing” is difficult to categorize because it works on so many different levels. Though the story revolves around a woman’s attempts to rescue her daughter from Indian renegades, the stronger core of the tale is the reconciliation between a father who abandoned his family, and his daughter. The film is visually stunning, and the acting is equal to the panoramic landscapes. Blanched only barely outshines her costar. There is violence, but none of it is gory; I’m surprised it earned an R-rating. The scene in which Maggie’s illness is broken by a combination of Indian chants and scripture reading did bother me, but otherwise the film was very satisfying. It’s something I would watch again, and perhaps buy on video.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
Charity Bishop
Neutral—This movie is quite heavy and dark. Don’t see it if your in a down mood. I thought the movie was well done, and the acting was very good. I thought it was more realistic than most Westerns… it didn’t glamorize the old West, and it showed how hard it must have been to live back then. Though depressing, I did like the way every escape plan failed. That seems more how things are in real life, many disappointments and no mucho heros riding in on pretty horses. Mostly it was just one older man, a woman and a kid attempting the rescue.

The witch doctor in the movie was portrayed as being demonicaly evil. The movie did not romanticize witchcraft and spell casting at all. It was completely evil. The scenes with the shaman were extremely gory and violent, but isn’t that how Satan is?

This movie was a good reminder that there is a spiritual world present that we usally don’t see. There is God, but there is also a devil. In the same way God’s Holy Spirit lives in and works through believers of Christ, the same is true for Satan living in and working through his “believers”.

The movie does a good job of showing the effects of evil control on a person’s life. In one scene, the young girl was reading aloud God’s Word along with 2 others who were giving Indian chants to help fight off an evil spell cast on the girl’s mother, who was a Bible-believing woman. In an earlier scene the woman had her daughter recite the 23rd Psalm to calm an elderly sick women. I wished the movie would have emphasized the power of God and His word more, but maybe that was all the film maker had to offer us.

The characters were not, “let’s just forgive and forget” type people with a “happily ever after” ending. They were tough people who had to harden themselves to survive the hard life they lived. Most movies portray everyday people as extraordinary or heroic. Not in this movie. There were several opportunities for sex scenes, but I was pleasantly surprised, there were none. I can’t remember any swearing either.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for young viewers. It’s intense, very violent and gory in parts. Though the movie was heavy and somewhat depressing, I really liked it. It was a good reminder of the reality of evil and the peace we have knowing that the power of the risen Savior lives in me and is bigger then any forces of evil I may encounter. The Bible says, with God all things are possible. Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
—Lisa Crosson S., age 43
Comments from young people
Negative—Two words: violence, and paganism. While not either condoned or glorified, this movie is quite liberal with both, from a very eerie shape-shifting Native American chief, to extremely graphic killings and corpses. Not particularly fast paced or attention captivating, and containing one sexual scene-albeit not an explicit one—I did not feel this movie was worth my while. In fact, I felt down-right cheated by the end.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Kristine, age 16
Movie Critics
…Howard’s least interesting movie in years…
—Sean O'Connell, filmcritic.com
…Good movie westerns these days may be too few and far between, but Ron Howard’s ‘The Missing’ is almost a great one…
—Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
…well made, suspenseful, and superlatively acted for the most part, but its harshness never feels organic to the tale…
—Ty Burr, Boston Globe
…so grim and depressing it’s hard to imagine how anyone but a masochistic critic could stand to sit through it…
—William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
…It’s a shame the film is so violent. …Also, while the movie balances its portrayals of Christian faith and Native American shamanism without stumping for either, the abundance of spiritual counterfeits will leave some Christian adults feeling oppressed.
—Bob Smithouser, Plugged In