"Five hundred dollars a day, plus expenses ... not including gin."
Michael (Boardwalk Empire) Shannon stars as JOHN RUSOW, a bitter and burned out alcoholic Chicago private eye shambling through life in The Missing Person, an oddly muted and disquieting 2009 film noir.
Rusow was once an NYPD police officer and there's a reason Rusow's not in New York anymore, but it'll take a while for us to find out why -- the story is slowly parceled out, in much the same way the slow burn plot is, carried along by some quietly powerful characterizations and wisecracks tossed out in such a deft, underhanded way that you're not even sure they were wisecracks.
But in many ways, that's what this film is all about: the things that are not there, the things that were not said and especially the people who are no longer there. It could be a big film, but in its own subtle and subversive way it's very lack of stature makes it seem far larger than it is, an unsettling little film that on the surface is just another genre exercise, full of all the tropes we've come to expect: the burnt out private eye, the rich widow, the smart ass cabbie, the enigmatic crimelord, the femme fatale and all the rest. But it also wants to be far more than a fill-in-the-blanks shamus game, taking a certain peverse pleasure undercutting our expectations while jabbing a finger deep into the holes other people leave in our lives.
The action begins with Rusow, still reeling from a hangover, pulled from his sleep by a phone call from an attorney. He's told to get his ass over to Chicago's Union Station to catch a 7 AM California Zephyr to LA. There's a man on the train, Harold Fullmer, whom Rusow is supposed to follow, and whom he is eventually charged with bringing back to his wife in New York City.
He tails Harold (and the young boy with whom he's traveling) around LA, and eventually south to the Mexican border. Along the way there are betrayals, false trails, a running flirtation with the prim Miss Charlie (Amy Ryan), the attorney's assistant, who may -- or may not -- know what is really going on, and a brief dalliance with a world weary cocktail bar pick-up (Leg Work's Margaret Colin in a great bit) who might -- or might not -- be a set-up.
Which is another part of this film's charm. Nothing is clear, everything is understated, underplayed, and the answers, when they come -- if they come at all -- are whispered. Which may be a little more subtle and demanding than some people want in a P.I. flick.
But Shannon's lurching, awkward performance alone may be worth the price of admission. He brings a brooding, twitchy ill-fititng presence to bear on Rusow -- he's like Jake Gittes as played by a chain-smoking Frankenstein's monster in a bad suit, and there are some great little scenes to suggest the detective and the world at large don't get along, and aren't likely to any time soon. Such as a confrontation with a prissy, overly officious Santa Monica cop on a Segway. Or the way he keeps on banging his head on the ceiling of the Zephyr's dining room car. Or his on-going quest to find a place to smoke a cigarette...
Eventually, all roads lead back to New York City, where much is answered, and much more is suggested. But the clues are all there, if your heart can take it.
Like I said, weird...
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