“The Missing Person” is the 2009 indie flick from Noah Buschel, starring Michael Shannon as Rosow, Amy Ryan as Charley, Frank Wood as Harold, John Ventimiglia as Hero, Margaret Colin as Lana and Yul Vazquez as Don.
The film tells the story of private investigator Rosow, who is hired to follow a man (Harold) who is traveling with a Mexican boy. Immediately fearing the worst (a child abduction/abuse case), Rosow insulates himself with his usual vices: alcohol, smokes, and genuinely sardonic behavior.
What I loved most about this film was the uncertainty I had as to what direction it would take. From the opening credits, with the screen focused on a silver coffeepot and showerhead, I thought perhaps this was a quirky indie, ala “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
The first line of the film is, “I could have lied there forever, but the phone rang.” I wonder if the director purposefully used the wrong vernacular (lied/laid) to portray how Rosow was lying- to himself, about his wife and the past events he ran away from. This was technically the first scene, even before the credits, which gave off a morose-narrative vibe, ala Charles Bukowski meets noir.
We then enter the world of Rosow (played excellently by Shannon, who nailed the priceless facial expressions of drudgery and misanthropy). On the first watch of this movie, I personally couldn’t judge Rosow’s nature right away; I wasn’t sure if he was just as bad of a man as the man he was following. We also don’t know who this woman is he’s fantasizing about, or why FBI agents are following him (not to mention the $2 sunglasses).
Once we recognize that Rosow is of good character, at least compared to the man he’s following, we start seeing the world through his eyes. When he gets in the car with the FBI agents and remarks, “It’s the slurpeeess, right!”, I actually laughed at loud, and the scene in which he drives in the trunk with his glow-in-the-dark sunglasses was classic. The interaction between him and Hero (Ventimiglia) was also fantastic.
Despite how this film was marketed, it’s definitely worth watching twice.
For one, there’s important yet subtle foreshadowing that you probably didn’t catch the first time but will appreciate the second. For example, when Rosow gets drunk on the train and when he gets to the hotel, he has telling visions of his wife. In the train vision we see a movie screen in the background with planes flying; in the hotel itself the TV is showing a cartoon where a plane flies and crashes. And then there’s the meaning behind Santa Monica, also mentioned in the film. (I won’t completely spoil everything, but all of this is essential to the plot).
Overall, you may label this neo-noir, but I felt it defied genre. If we must go there, “The Missing Person” comes off as a dark-humored drama with indie-noir undertones. Some may’ve felt it was too slow-paced, but I disagree. This wasn’t boring scenes interspersed with action- it was “slow” the entire way. Every scene was put in for a purpose, and there still was a twist involved.
The only thing I want to know is where to find the song “Pretty Fly,” as I can’t get it out of my head.