The Missing Person [2009]

I’m unsure of the provenance of this film, but I suspect it was straight-to-dvd and otherwise slithered without a trace into the world. It is about a private detective, Rosow, who is clearly an alcoholic trying to cope with some massive psychological trauma. He is hired over the phone to shadow someone. All he has is a photo and a starting point, and he sets drunkenly out to do it.

Straight away you realize that his alcoholism will make it quite unlikely for him to succeed. He makes almost no attempt to remain inconspicuous & he passes out drunk, trusting that he’ll be woken by the train stopping in time to pick up the trail. Yet, against the odds he does manage his job, and resolves his case.

What’s interesting about the film is that it is a film which uses all the trappings of the detective and one major action motif (shadowing) to tell a story that has absolutely nothing to do with crime, and everything to do with the response to trauma. The detective and the man he’s shadowing are experiencing the same tragedy from different angles. The case becomes a symbolic way for the detective to reverse his own tragedy.

The entire story is actually pretty similar to the Flitcraft parable, the tale that Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy while they’re waiting around. It’s hard to believe that the writing team of this film was unaware of that story, given the genre they’re working in, but I wonder how many casual watchers will spot that.

What this film does then, is use a detective character and some detective actions completely outside of a crime context. The whole detective structure is simply scaffolding for a more generally human story, a way of bringing the different characters into contact and exploring the results. It does this pretty well, it is mesmerizing to watch. It does have some small faults – the small handful of voice-over narrations are all unnecessary, and I didn’t need the coda spelling out the consequences of his central decision. All in all, interesting and recommendable.

[Note: I’m pretty confident that it’s 6/10 on IMDB is largely people misunderstanding what the film is trying to do, rather than a statement on quality. It’s true it’s production values are not too great, but the script and acting are solid.]

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