Friday, November 20, 2009

 

A detective story with a beat you can't dance to


By Edward Copeland
In the history of cinema's odd performances, and I'm only referring to the ones that actually work such as Mickey Rourke in Barfly, you can now add Michael Shannon in the underseen and unusual excuse for a detective story called The Missing Person.


Shannon, whose two scenes in Revolutionary Road were so great he snagged a supporting actor Oscar nomination out of them, plays John Rosow, a private investigator and former New Yorker who is now based out of Chicago. He drinks a lot, but he doesn't seem like a drunk. In fact, he doesn't really seem as if he's from this planet with his air of permanent distraction and a sense that not much in life interests him at any given time, even the case he's being paid to work on.

Written and directed by Noah Buschel, The Missing Person lets the audience in on its secrets very slowly, yet this isn't a film that's preoccupied with twists. It seems as disinterested in letting us in on the story behind Rosow or the man he's following (Frank Wood) as Rosow does going about his day. The movie earned Buschel a prize as breakthrough director at the Gotham Independent Film awards and I can see why.

Shannon's performance, and the movie itself, could be off-putting in the early going, but if you relax and surf this film's unusual waves, it will ultimately prove rewarding, especially if you use Shannon as your guiding star. His eyes always seem to be focused elsewhere, yet you remain riveted on him. There's a scene late in the film where he's shot at a distance, standing in a hallway, beneath a bright overhead light. The character he's talking with thinks he's about to do something, but Shannon's performance is not a hair-trigger one and that's what makes it all the more interesting.

Warning: The next paragraph contains spoilers.

There is a reason for John Rosow's perpetual fog. The connection between Rosow and the man he is seeking is 9/11. Many films have touched on the subject since that tragic day in 2001, but more than a fair share came off as gimmicky and plot points placed just to push the audience buttons. That's not the case here. It's the first film I've seen that treats the event as a fact of life. While some aspects of what it caused characters to do may seem wrong or hurtful, it's the first film that so underplays it that it also comes from a place of emotional understanding.

Spoilers done. Resume reading.

Supporting Shannon's efforts in this most unusual journey are the aforementioned Wood, a very good actor that most people will recognize but probably not as many will know by name as they should. He won a Tony for his role in Warren Leight's Side Man and might be most familiar as Murray's mild-mannered co-worker at the New Zealand consulate on HBO's two-season wonder Flight of the Conchords.

A couple of other HBO veterans also come along for the ride. The great Amy Ryan (The Wire), who scored an Oscar nomination for her brilliance in Gone Baby Gone, plays someone involved in hiring Rosow and John Ventimiglia swaps his chef's hat as Artie Bucco on The Sopranos for a hack's license. There also are nice turns by Margaret Colin and Linda Emond.

Still, it's Buschel's screenplay and direction and Shannon's original performance that makes The Missing Person a keeper. It's a detective story where the real mystery is why the film didn't get more attention from critics when it was originally released because it certainly deserved it, if only to read the discussion it would have inevitably sparked.


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Comments:
In some reviews for this film I've read comparisons to Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE which certainly piques my curiosity as that's my fave Altman film. I really like Michael Shannon and have been a fan of his for some time. Can't wait to see this one.
 
I wouldn't go so far as to say it's in the same league as The Long Goodbye, but it's definitely worth watching.
 
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