Film Review: The Missing Person

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PARK CITY -- Writer-director Noah Buschel's third feature, "The Missing Person," is a low-key mystery that's initially engaging but ultimately lacks sufficient intrigue to sustain interest. Sundance's endorsement should help with securing further festival play, but theatrical and ancillary prospects are otherwise dubious.

Buschel's film begins favorably enough, with private investigator John Rosow (Michael Shannon) accepting an assignment from a mysterious attorney to follow an unidentified man and boy from Chicago to Los Angeles by train. Down on his luck, Rosow begrudgingly takes the job, seeing that it pays $500 a day plus expenses, hand-delivered by the attorney's attractive and sassy assistant, Miss Charley (Amy Ryan).

A former NYPD officer, Rosow has a haunted past and a heavy alcohol habit that he liberally indulges. Considering his mark seems harmless and unsuspecting, Rosow's not too concerned -- until the intervention of a femme fatale, an unexpected trip to Mexico in the trunk of a cab and a couple of beatings convince him to find out more about Harold Fullmer (Frank Wood). What he eventually discovers is that Fullmer is officially a missing person, one of thousands unaccounted for after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Since Fullmer now is leading a completely new life rescuing homeless kids, Rosow is ready to wrap up his investigation. But then his lawyer client offers $500,000 for Rosow to deliver Fullmer to his anxiously waiting wife in New York. Rosow's decision whether to forcibly return Fullmer is complicated by his own past and a similar loss in his life as well as the developing double-cross that may interfere with collecting his reward.

With a lead character that is laconic to a fault and a script that's nearly devoid of action, Buschel doesn't leave himself much to work with. Although the idea of a 9/11 survivor living a secret life is interesting, the film never really delves into the realities and contradictions of investigating a man without an identity.

Shannon is suitably taciturn and brooding as the troubled P.I., but Wood never has the chance to make much of his character and Ryan's beguiling Miss Charley sparks too late in the narrative to add much depth.

Buschel's conventional filmmaking style isn't well suited to the genre and the desaturated color scheme further erodes any notion of modern-day noir. It's hard to shake the sense that this project, with its resonant social themes and borderline nihilistic point of view, represents a major missed opportunity, but perhaps it will inspire a remake that's bolder in tone and execution.

Production: The 7th Floor, Apropos Films
Cast: Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Frank Wood, Linda Edmond
Director-screenwriter: Noah Buschel
Producers: Jesse Scolaro, Allen Bain. Lois Drabkin, Alex Estes
Executive producers: Jason Orans, Amy Ryan
Director of photography: Ryan Samul
Production designer: Aleta Shaffer
Costume designer: Eden Miller
Editor: Mollie Goldstein
Sales: Visit Films

No rating, 95 minutes