Cate Blanchett in ‘The Missing’

Cate Blanchett: Medicine Woman. She’s a healer in 1880s New Mexico in Ron Howard’s Western The Missing (2003). We discuss the film, the performances of Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones and Evan Rachel Wood. Plus we look into Howard’s filmography including his latest Hillbilly Elegy (2020), while admitting that we can’t find clues there to what he’s obssessed with as a filmmaker. For this conversation Murtada Elfadl welcomes back writer and critic Andrew Kendall, some of Andrew’s film writing can be found here.

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What is the film about?

From imdb: In 1885 New Mexico, a frontier medicine woman forms an uneasy alliance with her estranged father when her daughter is kidnapped by an Apache brujo. Shades of The Searchers (1956). Also starring Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd and Aaron Eckhart.

What year did it come out?

November 2003

Who does Cate play?

Magdalena (Maggie) Gilkeson, a healer in the 1880s American west who has a complicated relationship with her father. It’s Dr. Blanchett, Medicine Woman. 

How is Cate introduced?

Immediately sitting in the commode. So Frances McDormand in Nomadland (2020) was not the first current star to be shown defecating in her movie.

Reception:

Box Office: Domestic = $27M Int’l = $11. Metacritic : 55. RT: 58.

Topics discussed: The Missing

  • Blanchett and Jones are matched well as two idiosyncratic people. There’s a symbiosis to their performances as stubborn loners; believable as father and daughter.
  • The film is well shot, well acted with an interesting story… why doesn’t it work? Competent though there’s nothing special about it – does that make the quintessential Ron Howard movie?
  • Too many rescue missions, gunfights…it becomes tedious… action not exciting.
  • Evan Rachel Wood as a truly stupid colonizer and Elisabeth Moss in a tiny part.
  • Aaron Eckhart supporting Oscar winning women; see also Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich (2000) and Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole (2010). Prefer that to his current iteration as a sometimes action star (the …Has Fallen movies).

Topics Discussed: Ron Howard

  • What do we think of his filmography? What kind of director is he – beyond a competent studio filmmaker? His filmography offers scant detail to what he’s obsessed with.
  • This was his follow to the Oscar winning success of A Beautiful Mind (2001) and the mega box office of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) i.e. he could do what he wanted and he chose this.
  • Murtada chooses Apollo 13 (1995) as his best movie, Andrew favors Parenthood (1989)- do they recall any of his other films? What made that successful?
  • Thoughts on latest, Hillbilly Elegy.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Came out at the tail end of the years where she was experimenting with different genres (discussed previously The Gift, The Man Who Cried) and different directors without lasting impact. The Aviator comes a year later and starts a few years of an amazing run till 2008 when she leaves film to run the Sydney Theater Company. 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

As for Blanchett, she’s simply wonderful. She has played her share of queenly figures, but her acting essence is, emotionally speaking, plain-Jane. She’s a straight shooter, with an uncanny ability to find a character’s spine and communicate it without fuss or feathers.”- Richard Schickel, Time.

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