The Missing Person (2009) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

The-Missing-Person-posterOn screen and on paper, the private investigator remains, for me, perhaps the most attractive of detectives to be found in fiction. You can keep your twinkly-eyed spinsters and your upper-class amateurs, for me PIs are often as interesting as the cases they investigate. And the form is so flexible that it can be taken in many truly unexpected directions. This little gem of a movie is a brilliant case in point, triumphantly updating the neo-Noir formula to the 21st century.

The following review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.

“I could lie there forever. But the phone rang”

Michael Shannon stars as John Rosow, a shambling, drunken PI based in Chicago. The film opens in a grungy style designed to dissuade casual viewers, the image dirty and grimy, the titles cheesy and cheap in the extreme, looking like the worst of bargain-basement straight-to-video fodder. But don’t turn off as this is merely meant to introduce our hero (and he is a hero) at rock bottom. Alone in the crappiest of one-room apartments, he is awoken by an unexpected phone call and a follow-up visit from Miss Charley (Amy Ryan, who also co-produces) and hired to follow an anonymous man on  a train. Rosow accepts and manages to make himself reasonably presentable, though horribly hung over, and get on the train. The man he is following has a young Mexican boy with him, which bothers Rosow but he is told that this is a straight tail job and all he has to do is report on where they go. This leads to a hotel in Hollywood and a barroom encounter with the beautiful Lana Cobb (Margaret Colin), who for some reason takes a shine to the PI.


Although her sudden crush on the guy is seemingly a bit implausible as he is very far from his best and she is definitely rather glam, it turns out that there is an explanation. Also, the fact is that Rosow is in actually quite likeable. Most (like Miss Charley) resist his charm but he is not cynical, sarcastic, embittered or misanthropic – he is just as much of a lost soul as the man and boy he is following.

“You’ve got a sad disposition, Mr. Rosow”

The man it turns out is freeing the lad from sex slavery and taking him to a safe haven – or at least, that’s what he thinks he is doing. But then Rosow, arriving in Mexico in boot of a taxi (cue some amusing banter with ex-New York cab driver about the real-life Frank Serpico), gets conked on the head and things turn out not to be what he was told. At this point the perspective on the story really shifts and truly starts to come into focus. Most reviews give away this part of the plot but it seems to be that it is better not to know, if you can – it’s not a clever twist or plot reversal, but it ties the major characters together in an unexpected way and gives the film an unexpected poignancy.

“You wake up one day and you’re an adult. And all the people you were just dreaming about have gone and changed. So you shake the sleep-dust from your eyes and you say, was it really so long ago that you and I sat together having fun? No, not so long ago. But life goes by in the blink of an eye.”

THe Missing Person

Rosow is a man straight out of 1940s Film Noir and like Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973) seems to have suddenly woken up in the contemporary world, cast adrift by the tide of modernity (he is amazed to discover that cell phones can take photos – and yes, this film is most definitely set int he present day). But it turns out there is a reason for his retreat into the past, there is a reason why he has turned to drink, and there is a completely understandable motive behind his melancholy. This is not a violent film – no guns are fired, nobody gets killed, there isn’t even much in the way of foul language – but is certainly dramatic, carried by a strong tide of emotion, leading to a conclusion that is both positive, life-affirming and still melancholy. It is a low-key and modest film, shot in a restrained style and made on a very small budget, but tells a good story and is played by a fine cast. I was completely won over and I think you will too. I had heard how good this film was though the good word being spread by John F Norris (see his review at Pretty Sinister Books) and, as usual, he was absolutely right. The official movie website is here:

DVD Availability: Available as a bare bones release on DVD it would be nice if this were given a bit more TLC as it really deserves it.

The Missing Person (2009)
Director: Noah Buschel
Producer: Allen Bain, Lois J. Drabkin, Alex Estes, Jesse Scolaro, Amy Ryan
Screenplay: Noah Buschel
Cinematography: Ryan Samul
Art Direction: Aleta Shaffer
Music: (after Ravel)
Cast: Michael Shannon, Frank Wood, Amy Ryan, Margaret Colin, John Ventimiglia, Linda Emond

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in Chicago, Film Noir, Hollywood, New York, Noir on Tuesday, Tuesday's Overlooked Film and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to The Missing Person (2009) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. le0pard13 says:

    This was the production Michael Shannon came on my radar. Fine fine.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sergio – There is most definitely something about the PI, isn’t there? Eerm – not quite ready to give up twinkly-eyed spinsters and gentleman detectives, but I most definitely understand your point about the strong PI story. And this one sounds as though it captures the story – the plot – well, without indulging in ‘overkill’ or melodrama.

    • Well, hopefully I don’t have to actially give on on my ‘cozy conforts’ Margot 🙂 But the private eye usually enfs up more personally involved in a case – certainly the case here, a terrific film.

  3. Colin says:

    I never heard of this till you mentioned it the other day. Anyway, on that basis and a look at the trailer I went ahead and ordered a copy. It hasn’t showed up yet and I want to watch it before reading more or commenting further – so I’ll be getting back to you on this.

  4. TracyK says:

    I have never heard of this movie and I have now added it to my queue at Netflix. Sounds great and I like Margaret Colin and Amy Ryan a lot … so definitely worth a try.

  5. Patti Abbott says:

    Love Michael Shannon. Don’t know how I missed this.

  6. neer says:

    Never heard of this movie but now very curious about it. And what a beautiful line: ” But life goes by in the blink of an eye.” Thanks Sergio.

  7. Sounds most intriguing, and definitely didn’t hit my radar at the time – truly an overlooked film, and sounds like a little gem.

  8. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen the film, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. I found it slow paced.
    By the way, there is a grammatical error in the first line of the film !

  9. Kelly says:

    Ha, you answered my question. About halfway through reading, I thought, “Is this set in the present day? It’s hard to tell.”

  10. Yvette says:

    I would wish one day to meet a P.I. who is NOT a drunk, but having said that, you’ve intrigued me with this review, Sergio. I’ll definitely look for the film on Netflix. I’m a big fan of Margaret Colin and always wonder why she hasn’t had a bigger career.

    • Could you tell I have a bit of a crush on her? Either way, this is a really good film Yvette – hope you can make the time to see it eventually. No idea if it’s on Netflix but I would imagine it would be a prime candidate for it.

  11. Thanks for this review, Sergio, didn’t know about the film. I share your views on the PI. I prefer them that way too. Didn’t Margaret Colin play Jeff Goldblum’s wife in INDEPENDENCE DAY? She looks familiar.

    • She most certainly did, though I really fell for her in Three Men and a Baby 🙂
      Margaret Colin

      • Sergio, I enjoyed “Three Men and a Baby” and its sequel but I’d forgotten that Colin was in there too.

      • Todd Mason says:

        I caught up with her on FOLEY SQUARE, the first of her several quickly-cancelled primetime series in the US…most if not all of them rather good (though her first TV gig sounds pretty good as well, as soaps go: “Margaret began acting in The Edge of Night (1956) (her character was a heiress and former terrorist, with seven murder attempts)”). She was also the second-best aspect of the film UNFAITHFUL…which, aside from the women in its cast, was pretty dire, as most of her films have been for me (through no fault of Colin’s).

  12. Colin says:

    So I got to see this although, what with traipsing from one end of Europe to the other, I haven’t had the opportunity to say anything.
    Overall I quite enjoyed it. The seedy opening really casts you back into a kind of half-world where the character is still living like a 40s gumshoe but bewildered by the modern life he has to deal with.
    And our hero is a likeable guy, he grows on you more as the movie progresses and you find out more about him. The plot does become a touch convoluted and I feel the payoff, while satisfying and feeling essentially right, doesn’t entirely match up to what came before.
    Generally good though – thanks for putting it on my radar.

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