The Missing Person eases into a modern Noir scenario, beginning in a dark hotel room and a deafening phone call. Private detective John Rosow (Michael Shannon) answers and the voice on the other end hires him to tail a man and boy from Chicago to Los Angeles. There’s no indication of a crime, but as in most Noir films, the surface never holds all the answers.
Slowly spinning entangled webs of deception, Noah Buschel’s restrained, brooding detective story is vintage old school filmmaking. Seedy characters trade jabs of stylized dialogue, sizing each other up through prose rather than action. Threats carry more weight that anything, and actual violence seems to be hidden in past trauma’s more than present conflicts.
During the measured, almost tactical opening third, it’s hard to pin down exactly where the film is headed, making for long passages of dramatically inert interactions between Rosow and fringe characters. But Buschel uses Shannon’s aching presence to carry the muted narrative, jumping across the continent again for a haunting third act in New York City. More so than any Neo-noir, The Missing Person takes its character’s suffering deathly seriously, developing Rosow in particular from hard-nosed cypher into a complex human being.
While The Missing Person isn’t stylistically innovative, or even that exciting, the film oozes regret, guilt, and desperation. Each character collectively yearns for a fresh start, even when their actions say otherwise. Mood and atmosphere dominate the dark Los Angeles alley-ways and the dank New York night clubs, holding off the fire of repressed memories that are eating these characters from the inside out. Time doesn’t heal old wounds, nor does isolationism or greed. The only hope for a lonely drunken detective is human interaction, but in this acidic world, that’s hard to come by.