Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance 2009: No Country for Old-School P.I.'s

These modern times don't suit the hard-boiled private investigator. With all the anti-smoking laws and Surgeon General warnings, Detective John Rosow can’t even inhale one visually satisfying lungful without someone asking him to extinguish his butt. If it weren't for his flask, the chain-smoking, hard-drinking hero of The Missing Person would be completely emasculated.

Michael Shannon tackles this character with a bravura deadpan, creating a man who would like to be Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe, just so long as he doesn’t have to try too hard. He gets cut-off at the first sign of a flirtatious double-entendre. He tries to deliver snappy Chandler-esque one-liners, but instead confuses people. To compensate for these short-comings, he drinks extra-hard.

Whether or not the film’s convoluted plot happens to be working or not, writer/director Noah Buschel lends a quiet, at times oddly amusing rhythm to his noir-throwback about a detective following a man for unknown reasons. Dark and drained of much of its color, the visuals draw you with a foggy sense of mystery. The cinematography would be right at home with some cigarette smoke -- but it is, after all, a filthy habit. (Jeremy Mathews)

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