A film by Ron Howard

This is Ron Howard s first film since his Academy Award winning A Beautiful Mind. Considering his other films, this is the not the movie I would have expected from Howard. This is a much darker, grittier film than Howard s other movies and I wasn t sure how well he would handle it. The answer is that he handled the violence and the depth of the darker elements rather well.

The film is set in late 1800 s New Mexico. Maggie (Cate Blanchett) is a homesteader living along with her two daughters, Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd). Maggie s eldest daughter, Lily, is captured by renegade Indians during a raid that killed Maggie s lover (Aaron Eckhart) and another hired man. Maggie is determined to rescue her child, but when she does not receive any help from the local sheriff or the army, she accepts help from her father, Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones). Maggie has been estranged from her father for years. He abandoned the family when Maggie was younger, and she has never forgiven him. Samuel has spent his life living among the Indians and he appears to be more Indian in manner and dress than a white man . Maggie and Samuel bring along Maggie s feisty young daughter, Dot. This is a really bad idea and they do not want to bring her, but Dot insists that the moment she has the opportunity, she ll just follow them by herself.

Maggie, Samuel, and Dot begin to track the Indians to rescue Lily. As they follow the trail, we learn amore about Maggie and Samuel, and also more about the Indians who have taken Lily. These Indians intend to sell the girls into slavery in Mexico, and are led by a witch/shaman with a nasty reputation.

With only two major westerns released this year, it would be a little misleading to say that it is the second best western of the year (behind the fantastic Open Range), but The Missing is a rather good movie with one of the best roles for a woman ever in a genre that tends to minimalize the gender. Cate Blanchett gives a powerful performance and the focus stays mostly on her, with Tommy Lee Jones giving a solid supporting performance. Val Kilmer also has a minor supporting role as an Army officer.

I was impressed with The Missing , but I m not sure if that was because of my low expectations coming into the movie or because the movie really is that fantastic. Maybe a little of both.

4 out of 5 pugs.