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adaptation the missing
"At its core, The Missing is the drama of a damaged family that finds forgiveness and courage as they track down a band of vicious kidnappers across a desolate, lawless landscape," says the film's Oscar®-winning producer Brian Grazer. "The tension is augmented by the complex relationship between the two central characters, Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) and his daughter Maggie (Cate Blanchett), which is as unpredictable as it is volatile. When these two people are forced together, we see how alike and how different they are - through their stubbornness and their strength. The ways in which they resist one another, and ultimately, are drawn together, creates an exciting dynamic." Evil personified Learning Apache Dialogue
"The Missing features great characters, flawed men and women, who demonstrate enormous courage when they are confronted by an unspeakable horror," says Academy Award®-winner Ron Howard, fresh from his Best Director and Best Picture triumphs for A Beautiful Mind. "It's a story of healing and reconciliation that also has the twists and turns of a thriller. I wasn't looking to merely exercise an old genre, but rather to tell a story that was relatable on a human level and exciting and suspenseful - but that still treated the period in an authentic way."
Another element of The Missing that Howard found irresistible, says Grazer, was precisely its "feminine dimension." As the father of three daughters, Howard was intrigued about making a movie with three central female characters set against the backdrop of the West. "Ron had never made a movie that really explored the role of women in his life, and he found that very attractive."
Though it is set in the American Southwest more than a century ago, Grazer contends that the film has a contemporary feel. "It's a powerful, combustible kind of story about the power of a woman when the thing that is most important to her - the life of her daughter - is threatened," he says. "And it is the story of a father, who returns to his family, and redeems himself in their eyes through an act of selfless bravery."
"A terrifying crisis, a brutal kidnapping, throws Jones and Maggie together, requiring her to overcome her bitterness toward her father," Howard adds. "That touches on issues about family that transcend time - the disappointments, the struggles, the unspoken love even in the face of past betrayals. Those dynamics have been in place forever and the strength of this story is that it deals with them in ways that are relatable, entertaining and suspenseful."
Producer Daniel Ostroff echoes those sentiments. "Whether you're a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, you'll understand these people and connect with them," he states. "You have a woman trying to raise two daughters with no father around. And you have a man who shows up after many years wanting to reconnect with his daughter and granddaughters after having abandoned his family to follow his dreams. These are people all of us know and understand."
The kidnapping serves as the drama's catalyst. Throughout the story, Maggie's seething resentment for Jones threatens to undermine the rescue effort at every turn. Her long-held grudges and mistrust raise the stakes in a perilous journey across an austere, unforgiving landscape. "You never know if they'll make it," says Grazer. "They surprise you in different ways and you're pulling for them to survive throughout the film in a way that keeps you constantly out of balance and on the edge of your seat."
Adding to the pressure is Maggie's sense of guilt about her relationship with her daughters. Before the kidnapping, she and Lilly were constantly at odds. Now her younger daughter, Dot, is traumatised by the violence surrounding her sister's abduction and is also confused by the volatile nature of the relationship between her mother and grandfather. It all adds up to a drama that has all the elements of a classic thriller that just happens to be set in the American Southwest.
What makes The Missing a unique thriller is its setting, says Ostroff. "You're in New Mexico in 1885. That means no cell phones, no police, no one to turn to. The only way to solve the problem is by relying on each other."
The interplay of the family drama and the brutal lawlessness of the old West, dovetails in surprisingly suspenseful ways, according to Ostroff. "There is one scene that demonstrates this beautifully. When a U.S. Army regiment comes upon Jones, who is going through a house in which a frontier family has been killed, they immediately assume he's the murderer. When he tells them he's looking for his granddaughter, they almost hang him because he can't tell them the girl's name. A gun battle erupts and throughout the whole scene you're on the edge of your seat thinking this guy's going to get killed because he can't remember his granddaughter's name."
the cast and the characters
Tommy Lee Jones' role as Jones is a multifaceted, unapologetic character, a stubborn and deeply conflicted man, trying in his own way to come to terms with his past and reconcile with his family.
"This role is unlike anything else Tommy Lee has ever done," Howard explains. "It's a performance of incredible bravery, creativity and imagination. He has created a character of incredible dimension in Jones, a man who straddles two worlds, but is never completely accepted by either of them."
It is the character's years of experience with the Apache culture that enable him to track down his kidnapped granddaughter and, throughout, the actor's commitment to authenticity elevated the performance, according to Howard. "Tommy Lee already had a vast knowledge of the old West and after studying for months with real Apache elders, for whom he showed the highest respect, he became fascinated with every detail of the culture," says Howard. "He was a champion of the Apache language, culture and psychology, adding priceless insights and humour to his portrayal, which brought greater truth to the film overall. It was the same kind of passion and knowledge I'd sensed when discussing the space program with Tom Hanks during Apollo 13. Tommy Lee's input was incredibly valuable, like having another technical advisor on the film."
Howard also found Jones to be a fearless actor who made unexpected but appropriate choices. "In refining and developing the character, Tommy Lee found so many interesting ways to avoid clichés. He showed a lot of creative ingenuity without sacrificing the authenticity and the integrity of the story."
What is most remarkable about the performance, says Grazer, is the ways in which Jones uses silence. "Tommy Lee has a quiet power that, when utilized, is palpable. He's among a small group of actors who not only have star power, but a raw energy that is fraught with danger."
In constructing a framework for the character, Jones created a man who had been to art school in New York and left his family to paint the people, animals and plains of Western North America. Jones' character returns to his family "just as one of his granddaughters has been kidnapped," says Jones. "The kidnappers want to take her to Mexico and sell her, a common practice in those days."
Even Jones' initial return to his family is more psychologically layered than one would expect. "Jones has a great deal of self-interest in coming back," the Oscar®-winning actor says. "He is happy that he moved from the European world to living in the indigenous American world. However, he's had the misfortune to have been bitten by a rattlesnake, and within his belief system, there are serious implications. Reuniting with his family is one of many things he must do to save the life of his soul. So when he comes to take care of his family he's motivated by survival. But anyone who works hard to take care of their family is, whether they know it or not, motivated by survival.
In the arc of the story, both Jones and Maggie eventually undergo self-enlightenment, says Howard. "They gradually realize that you can't erase the past, but it doesn't have to cripple you either. Rather than ignoring one another's defects, they learn to accept them. Maggie comes to appreciate her father for his attributes and puts the past behind her."
Equally important to fully exploiting both the dramatic action and impact of The Missing was the presence of Cate Blanchett as Maggie Gilkeson, according to Grazer. "Cate was ideal for this role, because she is sexy, powerful and interesting as an actress. She has an inner strength that makes you feel she could stand up to the bad guys. Very few actresses have that command and level of power."
As with Jones' character, Maggie might seem easy to pigeonhole at first glance. "She seems to be a no-nonsense, devout pioneer woman," says Blanchett. "As the story progresses however, it is clear that, in so many ways, she's as contrary as her father. Like Jones, Maggie is on an emotional, physical and spiritual passage that reveals every aspect of her character - not just her grit and courage, but also her more maternal side as well as her fragility, her fears, her fallibility and often judgmental nature."
"The choice of Blanchett was key to creating such a strong, multi-dimensional character," says Howard. "Her level of preparation, her innate honesty, both as a person and as an actor, really served the material. Coaches like to talk about star athletes who support the team in intangible ways. That was true of Cate. She has great ideas, asks smart questions and accesses her own humanity in ways that are startling to watch and really exciting to direct. It was fascinating to see her develop this role and invest it with so much power. She took it to another level. At the same time as she embodied the stoic, strong women who existed during that era, she was a very contemporary kind of character."
Blanchett has mutual respect and admiration for Howard. "Ron is astonishing, especially since this was a very hard shoot with difficult terrain and intense emotional scenes," she says. "He and the cinematographer, Salvatore Totino, did extraordinary things. Ron's work is always rich with idiosyncrasy, scope and drama. All that is definitely in The Missing."
There is a complex psychology in the family dynamic between children and parents in the film. "As much as it is set in the Southwest, there is at the heart of it, a story of an estrangement and the journey toward reconciliation and redemption," she continues. "Maggie sees a lot of herself in her girls, but her relationship with Lilly is troubled. Lilly is older, and Maggie is trying to prevent her daughter from experiencing the same adolescent disasters she herself experienced. And that's just impossible. She and Lilly are in this constant tussle, so when she's kidnapped, Maggie is wracked with guilt. She believes in some strange way that it's her fault that Lilly has gone missing."
Capturing all the clashing emotions Maggie experiences on her journey "is all about nuance," says Blanchett. "On both the physical and emotional level, it all comes back to Maggie. As arduous and painful as this journey is, it is also a kind of healing one for Maggie and her family. She goes through so much loss and struggle and yet she and her daughters emerge stronger and are really able to move forward in a powerful, positive way."
In researching her role, Blanchett read first-hand accounts by pioneer women. "The frontier experience was a harsh journey into the wilderness, and there is a wisdom that comes from that," says Blanchett. "In reading their diaries, I was fascinated by their resilience and its impact on their femininity. Maggie is someone who has submerged some of her more 'feminine' feelings because of her traumatic childhood and the harshness of daily life. There is a damaged quality to her. At the same time, because of her circumstances, she is incredibly physical, and better able to withstand physical difficulties than the emotional ones."
Fresh from her triumph as the troubled teen in Thirteen, Howard selected Evan Rachel Wood to handle the physically demanding role of Lilly, whose kidnapping propels the story of The Missing forward. "Both her emotional and physical endurance were spectacular," says the director. "There is not a moment of insecurity or neurosis, not even that youthful arrogance that you might expect from someone her age. Instead, there was a maturity and a remarkable understanding of the role that was far beyond her years."
Wood's vulnerability brought added dimension and texture to the role of Lilly, says Grazer. "At the beginning she presents a side that makes you think she will likely be overpowered. But then she surprises us. Her fight for survival is both interesting and very human."
The character's change and growth through adversity is exactly what excited Wood about the role of Lilly. "At the start, she is so prissy, like a Valley Girl of the 1800s," Wood relates. "She's interested in fashion and longs to get away from the farm. When she is kidnapped and thrown into these awful situations, nobody thinks she'll survive. But you see her change and grow into a woman. She finds her own strength and fights back and it becomes a link to her mother. She comes to find that she shares and admires her mother's incredible strength and bravery, traits Lilly thought she never possessed."
The role of the younger daughter, Dot, was even trickier, says Howard, because the audience is largely seeing the story through her eyes. "Dot is very much a point-of-view character," Howard says. "She's just old enough to sense when something is amiss but innocent enough not to be really affected by it. It makes her a very valuable observer for the audience. She is thrust into some horrifying moments, and to see her navigate them makes you understand the dangers of the times, the fallout of the dysfunction of her family and the mistakes that go back to long before she was born. Her character offers an emotional entrée for the audience to the subtext for the story."
What amazed Grazer was how Jenna Boyd held her own against such formidable actors as Jones and Blanchett. "She had a personal connection with both of them. Her character is believable, powerful and un-intimidated."
Boyd, who has distinguished herself this year with leading roles in the David Spade comedy Dickie Roberts: Child Star and HBO's new series "Carnivale," prepared for her character by reading books that Howard sent her about children growing up on the frontier. She saw Dot as a tomboy type, but someone who was also emotionally curious. "In the beginning she's happy with her life," says Boyd. "But after experiencing these traumatic events, it all becomes very confusing and emotional for her. She's also very interested in her grandfather and wants to learn about him and the Indians he rode with. Her mother's hostile attitude toward him just adds to her confusion."
The intense physical demands of the film were Boyd's favorite parts, she says. An avid swimmer, she actually looked forward to the scenes in which her character nearly drowns. Though she'd never seriously ridden a horse before, Boyd learned how to canter up precarious hillsides and ford streams on horseback. "She was unbelievably game," says Howard. "I think some of that had to do with her background as a figure skater and her personality. She has a wonderful outlook on life."
A genre re-imagined - shooting the missing
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