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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

THE MISSING -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

There have been a lot of tense dramas over the years about obsessed parents, spouses, family members, etc. going on a tireless and often dangerous quest to track down a missing loved one. It's pretty much surefire entertainment if done right, and the Starz-BBC limited series "The Missing" does it really right.

THE MISSING (Anchor Bay, 8 hour-long episodes on two Blu-ray discs) tells the story of Tony and Emily Hughes (James Nesbitt, Frances O'Connor) and their young son Olly, an English family on holiday in France. Car trouble forces them to stay the night in a small town near Paris, and while Tony and Olly are out seeing the sights the boy disappears into the crowd. The frantic parents search everywhere for him to no avail, while all efforts by the police to locate the boy prove fruitless as well.

As you might expect, everything begins to go wrong. A pompous police official who aspires to be mayor hampers the investigation from the beginning for selfish reasons, while the chief suspect, a pathetic sex offender named Vincent Bourg (Titus De Voogdt), is released after witnesses place him somewhere else.

Worse, a violent episode in Tony Hughes' past is revealed by unscrupulous reporter Malike Suri (Arsher Ali), casting doubt on his own innocence while contributing to the inexorable deterioration of his marriage to Emily. And one of the investigating police detectives, Khalid Ziane (Saïd Taghmaoui, THREE KINGS), is being blackmailed by Suri into feeding him this and other inside information. In the midst of all this, it's the dogged determination of seasoned detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) to solve the case which keeps Tony and Emily going.

The story alternates between the original timeframe of 2006 to the "present", in which an older, more timeworn Tony and his retired friend Julien are still relentlessly digging for clues while Tony's ex-wife Emily struggles to start a new life with English detective Mark Walsh (Jason Flemyng, THE RIDDLE, KICK-ASS, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN), with whom she fell in love when he was their liason with the French police force.

The past and present timelines play off each other in interesting ways and yield several scintillating surprises during the course of the story. At first the 2006 segments may seem anti-climactic since we've seen how they'll turn out, but the past still holds many tantalizing secrets which will have a direct bearing on later events and are only now becoming clear to our protagonists.

Red herrings abound--was it the guilt-wracked pedophile who struggles to keep from acting upon his fantasies? What does a Romanian crime ring have to do with the case? And what about the wealthy Ian Garrett (Ken Stott), who offers to help the grieving parents financially, but whose benevolence may hide a sinister motive?

The deliberate, non-sensationalistic storytelling style is indicative of the show's BBC influence, with quietly artful direction and photography that help us focus on the story and performances rather than flashy visuals. This way the impact of the story creeps up on the viewer and is often deeply affecting without going for cheap thrills.

James Nesbitt, excellent in such previous series as "Murphy's Law" and "Monroe", is riveting as the manic, driven father whose breathless desperation to find his son threatens to consume everything in its path while sometimes erupting into violence. His journey from initial blind panic to growing anger and, finally, a grudging resignation is the engine that keeps THE MISSING moving briskly along.

As Emily, Frances O'Connor (JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR, A.I.) internalizes much of her character's emotional turmoil in equally convincing fashion as the devastated mother lapses slowly into near-madness. Tchéky Karyo (THE CORE, GOLDENEYE) as Julien Baptiste is the film's most stabilizing influence, using his quiet compassion and reason to keep the investigation from spinning out of control. The rest of the cast are fine as well.

The 2-disc Blu-ray from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras consist of three very brief promo featurettes: "Behind the Scenes", Transformations", and "Time Changes All."

THE MISSING easily keeps us in its ever-tightening grip until the final episode when, at last, all is revealed in shocking fashion. And just when we think it's over, there's one final twist in store that knocks the whole ending disturbingly off-kilter.

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