Brilliantly directed and written by Noah Buschel (Neal Cassady (2007), Glass Chin (2014), The Phenom (2016)). The film contains some interesting cinematography by Ryan Samul (Cold in July (2014). It also has a great jazz score compiled by Jim Black.
The film stars Michael Shannon as P.I. John Rosow, Frank Wood as Harold Fullmer, Amy Ryan as Miss Charley, Linda Emond as Mrs. Fullmer, John Ventimiglia as cabbie Hero Furillo, Margaret Colin as Lana Cobb, Paul Sparks as NYPD cop Gus Papitos, Yul Vazquez as Don Edgar, Paul Adelstein as attorney Drexler Hewitt, Kate Arrington as Jane Rosow. The great Joe Lovano appears doing a sax solo.
The Missing Person is one of the best Detective Films to come along in years. The story is smart and original, with a witty sense of humor. The dialogue crisp. It's partly a fish out of water story as NYC native John negotiates Southern California, and partly a psychological drama. The film is also an entertaining riff on past detective films, The Narrow Margin, Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, the later Harper, Marlowe and even Pulp Fiction. There is there's also a nod to Edward Hopper's classic oil, New York Movie, 1939.
It's a fresh, realistic tack that this detective tale takes. This is exactly the kind of film that actually advances our Classic Hardboiled Detective into a believable place in today's world, it renews and resets the genre. He's not the P.I. on steroids. He's not the perfect knight in shining armor, he's damaged, jaded, anxious, weary, bordering on melancholia. The weight of some hidden world seems to be upon him. Our modern small time P.I. is also a bit of dinosaur around the new technology, he's an ex NYPD cop, and an alcoholic. Our updated P.I. is pickled and has soft boiled cool.
5:10 AM, John Roscow (Shannon) our private dick, sleeping off a bender in a Chicago flop, is awakened by a phone ringing. He gropes about in the twisted sheets finally grabbing the handset of his landline, only to discover it's his cell phone, welcome to the modern world John. In a traditional voice over:
John Rosow: I could lie there forever. But the phone rang.
John Rosow: Hello?
It's a New York attorney, moniker, Drexler Hewitt, on the other end. The first words out of Roscow's mouth is "I'll pay the bills tomorrow...." before he discovers that the call is for a job.
Hewitt wants him to tail a subject who is taking the 7:00AM California Zephyr to The City Of Angels out of Union Station. The attorney tells him that an old NYPD acquaintance Gus Papitos (Sparks) recommended him for the job. The attorney's secretary will arrive with the details in a few minutes. John asks "do I get paid for this." It's $500 a day plus expenses. Eaten' Money. While he's still talking he gets a knock on his door it's the secretary Miss Charley (Ryan) with the case details.
Miss Charley: Any other questions?
John Rosow: Yeah, what makes this Drexler Hewitt think I'll tail this guy without any more information?
Miss Charley: [flips the money envelop at him hitting him in the crotch] Good day, Mr. Rosow.
John Rosow: [finding money in envelop] So far, I guess...
John showers, shaves, throws on a suit and tie, fills up a flask with gin and walks to Union Station, Chicago to catch the Zephyr.
|John Rosow (Shannon)|
The whole California Zephyr sequence provides a bit of magical cinematic memory to The Narrow Margin.
Once upon the train, John discovers that his subject is hiding in plain sight and traveling with a little Mexican boy. He calls Miss Charley to complain. He tells her that if he'd known he'd have asked for more money. He suspects that the man is a child molester. Miss Charley tells him to follow Fullmer to wherever he goes.
The Zephyr-Narrow Margin Sequence
After getting sloshed in the dining car John stumbles back to his compartment in an alcoholic fog. He passes out. He has a dream/flashback of his deceased wife Jane.
|Quote of Edward Hopper's New York Movie 1931, with Jane Rosow (Arrington)|
He wakes up as the Zephyr pulls into the City Of Angels.
He tails the suspect and the child to a hotel, checks in and arranges for a rental car. In his room he calls Miss Charley. She tells him to get a cell phone that takes pictures, (of Fullmer) so that he can send them to her. This simple assignment provides the film with some very humorous sequences. The first with a cell phone store salesman, the second with an LAPD cop riding on a Segway in Hollywood, who threatens to give him a ticket for jaywalking.
While eavesdropping with a stethoscope on Fullmer through a heat vent, he discovers that a team of F.B.I. agents is also tailing the subject. Who we find out is actually Harold Fullmer, a wealthy stockbroker who is a Missing Person. He was one of the last people to escape from the North Tower collapse of the World Trade Center. He just walked away from his life and wife and never looked back.
Los Angeles Sequences
|Listen, I just want a phone that takes pictures|
|Jaywalking, are you a real cop?|
Lana: Are you, like everyone else here, in show business.
John Roscow: I'm in the hide and seek business.
Lana: But that's a kids game.
John Roscow: Not if you add money to it. then it's for adults.
The Lana Sequence
|Lana buys him a drink|
|Lana is hot to trot|
The next morning John snap's a capture of Lana in bed, this he later sends to Miss Charley to make her jealous. John sits in his rental waiting for Fullmer. He then tails Fullmer and the kid in their cab, through a desert of Joshua trees on an old two lane down towards Mexico.
At a roadside diner he approaches Fullmer's taxi driver and shows him his PI License. He discovers that the driver Hero Furillo (Ventimiglia) is an ex-New Yorker from his old neighborhood. He asks him where they are headed. It's a small seaside town with a one lane dirt road. John won't be able to follow. He gives him half of a $500 bill to let him ride in the trunk.
|"You're from the neighborhood? Get the fuck outta here."|
Hero Furillo: Hope you can breath in there
John Roscow: I've had apartments small than this in New York
Once he reaches the small Mexican village and he finds out from a Mexican drug lord, Don Edgar, what exactly Fullmer is doing it all starts to fall into place. It all involves an elaborate set up and a double cross.
|Don Edgar (Vazquez)|
|another flashback to Jane|
|John confronting his demons|
|Gus Papitos (Sparks)|
|I trying to remember what I saw in you|
|Joe Lovano on sax|
|Mrs. Fullmer (Emond)|
The Missing Person is a gem, another Noir lovers wet dream. The film is highly stylized and nicely accented with jazz pieces throughout. The mood and atmosphere created by director Noah Buschel is a marvel. I'll be sure to check out the rest of his films.
Michael Shannon is extraordinary as Rosow, his performance is understated as the haunted, damaged hero, who still retains a modicum of "cool". The rest of the supporting cast is excellent. The screencaps are from the Strand Releasing DVD. 9/10