Jack Lemmon was perhaps the quintessential Everyman of American cinema, a reliably earnest, down-to-earth performer who was equally good at playing the put-upon hero in Billy Wilder comedies and embodying an average, relatable guy in dramas like The China Syndrome or Glengarry Glen Ross. So it's especially heartbreaking to watch Lemmon's performance in Costa-Gavras' Missing, which casts him as a conservative American businessman who searches, with mounting disillusionment, for a son that disappeared in the midst of a bloody Latin American putsch. While there's an element of left-wing fantasy in Lemmon's conversion from unquestioning patriot to newly awakened skeptic of U.S. covert activities, Lemmon's emotional directness, driven by a need simply to find answers, makes that transition entirely plausible. Within this decent citizen lies the conscience of a nation.
Based on Thomas Hauser's book The Execution Of Charles Horman, Missing takes place in an unnamed Latin American country, but it doesn't much sleuthing to figure out that it's 1973 Chile during General Pinochet's military coup over Salvador Allende's democratically elected socialist government. Charles Horman was an American journalist and filmmaker living in Santiago with his wife Joyce, played in Missing by Sissy Spacek, when he disappeared and was never heard from again. Though his father Ed (Lemmon), a New York businessman, has always found his son flaky and naïve, and doesn't approve of his lifestyle, he joins Joyce in a wild-goose chase through bureaucratic dead ends. They eventually come to suspect that the American consulate is lying to them about Charles' disappearance and about their country's investment in the coup's success.
Ever the political provocateur, Costa-Gavras (Z, State Of Siege) actually got an official response to Missing from the U.S. government, which is included on the DVD. That response uncannily echoes the pathetic obfuscations of American officials within the film itself, which should be reason enough to believe that the Hormans, Hauser, and Costa-Gavras were hitting the right buttons. Through an effective procedural style, Missing tours a city where bullet-riddled bodies turn up on the streets, in waterways, and in warehouses, where others of the "disappeared" are laid out with no claimants. True to form, Costa-Gavras hits these revelations with a hammer, but in the face of such horrors, subtlety isn't a proper response.
Key features: A supplemental disc includes a moving 2008 interview with Joyce Horman, two contrasting interviews (one from '82, the other from '96) with Costa-Gavras, and a conversation with cast, director, and Horman's family at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where Missing won the Palme D'Or and Best Actor.