The Missing Person

John Rosow is a P.I., hired off a cold-call to trail a man. It turns out he's distinctly bad at his job—once he's got his mark in sight, he starts slamming martinis and, tall and unsteady, makes a conspicuous tail. Rosow—played by Michael Shannon, whose rumpled face suggests harrowing knowledge and unmade beds—is introduced grunting through a gummy hangover mouth, his leak of complaining noises never stopped up. After a leisurely pursuit from Chicago to L.A. to Mexico, he hauls his prey back East, where they'll confront NYC and the memories they abandoned there. The date will be established as post-9/11, but Rosow is a culture-shocked noir refugee, befuddled by camera phones, chastised for smoking by a cop on Segway, and photographed in raspy, desaturated HD instead of his native black-and-white. Auteur Noah Buschel's film references touchstones of the lonesome 1930s—one of Rosow’s flashbacks reproduces Edward Hopper’s New York Movie; his target’s backstory, an ordinary life amputated by close-call trauma, borrows from Hammett’s Maltese Falcon—all of which is well and artsy, but doesn’t diminish the sense, once the mystery has untangled, that the film has been gesturing toward a profundity that isn't there.
Dec. 25-31, 2009

 
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