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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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The Missing Person

In Noah Buschel’s The Missing Person, a character compares the protagonist, private investigator John Rosow, to Humphrey Bogart. The comparison is only made because of Rosow’s occupation, but it remains wholly appropriate. Rosow, played by rising character actor Michael Shannon, is pitched as a modern-day Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, a man walking these mean streets who is not himself mean. Drenched in booze on arrival, Rosow is a 1940s detective trapped in present-day America, a temporal fish out of water. He speaks in hardboiled clichés, uses stethoscopes to eavesdrop through walls, and listens to moody 1940s jazz. He’s constantly confronted with society’s progress—a taxi driver refuses to tail another taxi for him, saying “we don’t do that anymore”; his childlike fascination with a cellphone that takes pictures is one of the film’s dry comic highlights—and slowly realises just how redundant he is in this time.

In that respect, The Missing Person is more than a throwback to 1940s noir, though initially positioning itself as such. While the conversation between Rosow and intermediary Miss Charley (Amy Ryan) at the film’s start may be saturated with dialogue that sounds like it was lifted from Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid rather than The Big Sleep, The Missing Person evolves into a deconstruction of the genre it purports to homage. Rosow is an anachronism, and as he pursues a man and a young Mexican child across the US, it becomes clear that he simply cannot function in contemporary society. As Rosow, Shannon’s performance is of crucial importance, and he is perfect with his weathered, Cagney-esque face and slurred voice. He feels like a 1940s shamus, and that’s what counts.

Meanwhile, writer-director Buschel capitalises on the opportunities presented him by that newfangled technicolour thing. As such, The Missing Person feels like a noir forced into another time but looks like nothing else. Buschel’s expressive filmmaking is illustrated by his captivating use of coloured lights, his (sometimes excessive) use of grain, and his clever framing (a scene between Rosow and an old friend, standing on opposite sides of a hotel room, is an impeccable example). While Buschel’s writing is less effective—contemporary issues feel shoehorned, forcing the film’s temporal dichotomy; the prologue feels too neat and over-reliant on narration—his direction is fantastic. That, plus Shannon’s performance, make The Missing Person one to watch.

Directed by: Noah Buschel

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