Costa-Gavras shot his controversial 'State of Siege' in Chile not long before the violent US-backed Allende coup. Maybe it's that familiarity with the locale that makes Costa-Gavras' 'Missing' seem so authentic.
More than just a startling vision of day-to-day life in the aftermath of a violent coup, there's much more of a feeling for the place and what ordinary people lost in the coup. There's a real sense of chaos in its imagery - dead bodies littering the streets as people try to go about their daily business or floating by in rivers, soldiers chasing and shooting at a white horse through deserted streets or diners on a rooftop garden leaving their means to watch a helicopter gunship shoot at unseen curfew violators. The sheer casual and irrational nature of violence ("You Americans always assume there has to be a reason") gives the film a palpable sense of terror and dread: this is a place where even an earthquake can't get people out onto the dangerous streets after curfew.
The fact that this time round Costa-Gavras had a Hollywood budget to play with helps immensely, but he also has a script based around people who aren't defined strictly by their politics - indeed, the movie is basically a search for `a political neophyte' by a gruff and unlikeable conservative (Jack Lemmon, on excellent form) and the missing man's wife (Sissy Spacek), a search that takes in embassies crowded with asylum seekers, morgues with hundreds of bodies piled almost haphazardly and the national football stadium that has been turned into a vast prison/torture chamber/place of execution. It's an outraged film but it's also one aware of its own impotence - this is a journey from hope to bitter and exhausted acceptance that there is nothing that an individual can do in the face of politically expedient mass murder.
It's easily Costa-Gavras' real enduring masterpiece, having lost none of its power more than a quarter of a century on, and its sobering to think that there was a time when movies like this weren't just mainstream releases, they were also big box-office. It's just a shame that Universal's DVD is such a shoddy disc - it doesn't even have a menu page! This is a film that really does deserve the Criterion treatment, or a special edition at the very least (there is a special edition in France with audio commentary by Costa-Gavras and interviews with the director and Joyce Horman).
As Amazon has unhelpflly combined the reviews for the standard extras-free UK Univeral edition and the US Criterion disc, the extras that are ONLY on the the NTSC Region 1 DVD two-disc set include:
- Video interviews with Costa-Gavras and Joyce Horman (wife of Charles Horman).
- Producing Missing, an interview documentary featuring producers Edward and Mildred Lewis, studio exec Sean Daniel, and Thomas Hauser, author of Missing, the film's source book.
- Interviews from the 1982 Cannes Film Festival with Costa-Gavras, Jack Lemmon, Ed Horman (father of Charles), and Joyce Horman. Unfortunately, as these were made for a live French TV broadcast these are simultaneously translated into French.
- New video essay with Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, examining declassified documents concerning the 1973 military coup in Chile and the case of Charles Horman.
- Video highlights from the 2002 Charles Horman Truth Project event honoring the twentieth anniversary of Missing, with actors Sissy Spacek, John Shea, and Melanie Mayron
- Theatrical trailer
- A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Michael Wood, an interview with Costa-Gavras, the U.S. State Department's official response to Missing, and an open letter from Horman family friend Terry Simon.
But buy it anyway for the film itself. It's worth it.