The Missing Person

Michael Shannon delivers yet another solid performance in Noah Buschel’s functionally flawed but visually arresting The Missing Person, a neo-noir that first toured the festival circuit two years ago and is finally being issued on DVD locally. Shannon plays a private-eye hired to tail a man from Chicago to L.A. When he gets there, he’s tasked with returning the man to his wife in New York City (via Mexico, briefly). Akin to many of the other characters Shannon has made his name playing, this chain-smoking alcoholic detective is full of nervous energy, a sullen, almost downtrodden wise-guy dealing with a heap of psychic pain—pain which emanates from an epoch-defining, trauma-causing event.*

Buschel has a film in post-production right now; his only notable prior credit is a poorly-received biopic of Neal Cassady that details his life after On the Road came out. Though its flaws radiate from the script out to some clunky delivery and a few poorly-edited sequences, The Missing Person shows that Buschel has an eye for detail and a very specific personal style—of which an early, magical dream-sequence homage to Edward Hopper’s New York Movie (a version of which painting reappears in the third act) is just one exquisite example.

The film’s locations—Union Station and greater downtown Los Angeles, and, later in the film, New York itself—are used almost as characters in their own right (though this isn’t exactly Miracle Mile or Drive). The film’s flubbed line deliveries (though none from the principals, which include the great character actress Amy Ryan) stick out like sore thumbs, but they’re few and far between: Buschel’s script is for the most part sharp and well-implemented. There is something of a sincerely-meant Lynchian mood throughout, amplified by a predominantly jazz-filled soundtrack—plus some carefully-placed Stravinsky. (There are also nods, both direct quotations and subtle allusions, to a small raft of pop-culture artefacts aside from the aforementioned Hopper painting: Serpico, Nathanael West, Chinatown, and Bogey—to name just a portion.)

Even with faults in the implementation of the writing, the lush visual style in The Missing Person, combined with its carefully-selected soundtrack, certainly makes for a visually engaging 90 minutes. Shannon’s performance is more than enough to hold the film together, and compensates for its few, altogether negligible shortcomings.

* To name that event would ruin one of the film’s key surprise; don’t read the blurb on the case.

The Missing Person is out now on DVD through Madman.

The bare-bones disc includes no special features.

The DVD looks pretty great: the film was shot by Ryan Samul, who counts among his cinematography credits Yeasayer’s aural odyssey Oddsac. His thoughtful, controlled compositions are beautifully retained, and the film’s crisp, largely de-saturated digital photography has transferred to disc well, but these highlights are offset by a couple of obvious, disappointingly hacky-looking green-screen shots. To boot, it would be generous to describe the sound mixing as ‘patchy.’ None of these adversely affect the film’s basic watchability, however.