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Vanishing Within a Trace

The Missing Person (2009)

Strand Releasing

The contradictions in Noah Buschel's modern-dress noir, "The Missing Person," are all honed to a fine edge. Its booze-sodden, hard-boiled private dick can't comprehend the concept of a camera phone but can still discuss the finer points of Stravinsky with the Feds. The grizzled cabbie in the California desert turns out to be a New Yorker and a big admirer of Frank Serpico. And what looks like a general noirish rigmarole of dames, trains and automobiles actually hinges not just on the human catastrophe of New York's blackest day, but on the redemptive power of American art. It's a noir for the ages, and it's a treat.

It starts off squarely in the genre's comfort zone, with John Rosow (Michael Shannon) being hired to tail a man by a mysterious voice on the telephone and then visited by classy dame Miss Charley (Amy Ryan). But in the course of his subsequent odyssey from Chicago to Los Angeles to New York, the story threads tangle nicely: Rosow lost a wife in 9/11 and quit the N.Y.P.D., his quarry lost a son to a kidnapper and evaporated out of his own marriage. Mr. Buschel hits a rich seam by letting Rosow's incongruity stand in for the void in his soul, as if 9/11 shunted him out of sync with the world. And Mr. Shannon – all growling cynicism and wounded ego – is at the top of his game, which with him is high indeed.

Wider conflicts lurk in the veins of the best noirs. Shifting that into a post-9/11 country and making it clear that Rosow is sleepwalking through an extended trauma, without the escape hatch of his living in a fantasy or having a brainstorm, makes this film's heightened reality extremely seductive. Plus the human dimension invoked by 9/11 speaks for itself, and the topic is handled with exquisite taste.

Mr. Bushel's most audacious move is to explicitly pull arts other than cinema into the mix. Rosow dreams of his dead wife posed in a recreation of Edward Hopper's "New York Movie" with the addition of a dreamy indoor fall of ash – a miraculous visual. Later, a child's rough recreation of the same painting triggers a moment of contrition. Eventually three unlikely characters find shared ground in the jazz of saxophonist Joe Lovano. All around Rosow, art is doing what it does: healing. It even heals him.


Opens on Nov. 20 in New York and on Nov. 27 in Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Noah Buschel; director of photography, Ryan Samul; edited by Mollie Goldstein; production designer, Aleta Shaffer; produced by Jesse Scolaro, Allen Bain, Lois Drabkin and Alex Estes; released by Strand Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Michael Shannon (John Rosow), Frank Wood (Harold Fullmer), Amy Ryan (Miss Charley), Linda Emond (Mrs. Fullmer), John Ventimiglia (Hero) and Margaret Colin (Lana).


Great review of a great film. The best film at Edinburgh Film Festival, in my opinion.

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