It’s a role like this for Jack Lemmon that reminds you of just how versatile he was as an actor who at one moment could play the light comedy with romance mingled in to a straight forward drama of the heart wrenching variety.
Lemmon plays the father of a young writer who has been living in a war torn country with his wife played by Sissy Spacek. Portraying the young inquisitive writer is John Shea who finds himself in the company of some high up U.S. embassy people and military figures including a mysterious Richard Bradford. It won’t be long afterwards that he goes missing like so many people being pulled off the streets in this land dominated by a military presence.
“What kind of world is this?”
A great question from Jack not long after arriving to begin the search for his son with his daughter-in-law Sissy whom he seems to hold some resentment against for being somewhat estranged from his idealistic son. Bodies lay in the street while gunshots commonly ring out as if they were just a car horn being honked. Spacek has become desensitized to the noise while Jack is constantly on edge and being awakened to the horrors of a politically volatile country. It’s a far cry from his quiet life as a Christian Scientist at home in the United States.
The duo begin their search through the channels of Embassy officials. Spacek is far from trusting and through the use of flashbacks we’ll come to understand why. Lemmon at first is full of hope and admonishes Spacek constantly for her lack of co-operation with Charles Cioffi and the other members in power at the U.S. embassy.
Their journey will lead them through hospital wards looking at the lost and wounded to rooms filled with bodies of slain so called radicals waiting to have their bodies identified for burial. It’s a rather disturbing scene if you as the viewer have become caught up in the search. It’s here that Sissy will find the body of a close friend who was supposedly questioned and released though never being heard from again.
The lies just keep getting deeper from both army and embassy officials. Jack is beginning to see first hand why Sissy is being far from helpful when questioned about her and her husbands friends within the country.
I’ll stop there on the plot points as this isn’t meant to be a movie filled with enthusiasm and the 1940’s happy ending fade out from writer – director Costa-Gavras. It’s a sobering tale of frustration and dead end leads for Lemmon who has a defining scene when questioned by the U.S. Ambassador about some political accusations he has publicly made. Lemmon breaks down and just pleads for answers on his sons whereabouts. Dead or alive so he just take him home.
Sissy Spacek begins her role as a somewhat timid woman who just wants to go back home but finds the strength within to battle back against the political machine and at first Lemmon himself. She’s very good here and at this time had already snagged one Oscar for Coal Miner’s Daughter. She would in fact secure another nomination for this role. Jack Lemmon had already won two Academy Awards and received another nomination here. Just three years prior he had starred in The China Syndrome, another Oscar nominated role in a highly tense drama. Jack did indeed win the Cannes Best Actor for his performance here in Missing.
Sadly, Missing contains a story within that continues to ring true at any corner of the globe during any given year. It’s a sobering tale with top flight performances. It’s not really a mystery film because there really is no doubt as to the film’s outcome going in. Especially once we’ve been introduced to the rather slippery characters that populate the embassy who are the ones that Lemmon and Spacek must count on in their search for Shea.
In the end it’s almost as if Jack and Sissy have become pawns in this political mess as if the political machine is using them as a sign of goodwill through the media in aiding their search though the film didn’t really delve into that much, it’s not a stretch to view it that way.
Well worth the effort to catch this Oscar nominated film that it has taken myself far too long to finally sit down and experience. Glad I did.