The Vanished

Thomas Jane, Anne Heche and Jason Patric

The Vanished stars three names who used to keep casting directors’ phones busy. Anne Heche, Thomas Jane and Jason Patric all bring a useful intensity to an incredibly wayward kidnap drama written by Peter Facinelli, whose face you’ll probably know (from the Twilight films, or Supergirl or Nurse Jackie on TV) even if you don’t quite recognise the name.

It’s a simple whodunit, in many ways, loaded up with paranoia, and kicking off in a trailer park that’s largely deserted, on account of it being Thanksgiving weekend, where married couple Wendy (Heche) and Paul (Jane) rock up in their RV with their daughter for a family camping weekend.

What with the film being called The Vanished (the alternate title is Hour of Lead, drawn from an Emily Dickinson poem), it’s no surprise to us but it is to the distraught parents when the young girl disappears. Who’s nabbed her?

“Largely deserted” isn’t the same as wholly deserted and in a nearby caravan are another couple, Eric (Kristopher Wente) and his hot and outgoing wife Miranda (Aleksei Archer), while lurking on the fringes are the ornery guy who runs the camp and the shifty dogsbody who oddjobs about.

Faites vos jeux, as they say on the roulette tables. Place your bets. With an hour and 35 minutes to go, I’d made my decision, strongly nudged in that direction by Facinelli, whose screenplay reveals fairly early on that younger couple Eric and Miranda cannot have children.

But no, hang on a minute, Facinelli has also thrown into the mix a wounded prisoner on the loose and we’ve met local cop Sheriff Baker (Patric) and his sidekick Deputy Rakes (played by Facinelli himself), the pair of them exuding a reassuring amount of competence and determination. Too much?

Neighbour Miranda gets into the hot tub
Neighbour Miranda likes a hot tub



Writer Facinelli doesn’t leave it there, adding in a further complication when Wendy and Paul do something that the sheriff has expressly warned them not to do, taking matters into their own hands and winding up… in spoiler territory.

The acting is good. It actually needs to be because there are gaping holes in the logic of this script and Facinelli hasn’t worked out how to avoid screeds of exposition. Patric is the best of the lot, which is a bit of a shock if you remember all the way back to Speed 2, but he’s blossomed as an actor since the leading man roles receded. If you’ve seen that weird Keyhole film by Guy Maddin, Patric was also incrediby good there.

But back to The Vanished, where psychological plausibility starts to diminish as the plot becomes less moored to reality. If you can stop yourself from asking why Wendy and Paul are doing one dumb thing after another, there’s something to admire in the way Facinelli shifts suspicion from one likely kidnap candidate to another and in the way he toys with our sympathies while painting a picture of paranoia run wild and the stupidities that it leads to.

At the level of subject matter I was reminded of Stangerland, the similarly overwrought Australian film starring Nicole Kidman as a mother with a disappeared daughter, while at the level of craft I wondered if Facinelli was trying to make a parody of a Lifetime movie. If so, The Vanished is brilliant and I’ve got it all wrong.

What it most looks like, though, is a very good story that’s been fumbled. The services of a script doctor (not least to take out all the exposition) might have removed a layer of artifice between the storytellers and their audience. Even so, good things lurk here, along with bad and mad people.



The Vanished – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate









© Steve Morrissey 2021







Wag the Dog

Robert De Niro, Anne Heche and Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

26 January

 

 

President Clinton denies “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky, 1998

On this day in 1998, a serving president of the United States responded to allegations that he had had sex with a woman other than his wife. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky” said Bill Clinton at the end of a White House press conference, with his wife standing beside him. Unfortunately for Clinton, there had been what most people would call a sexual relationship, and Lewinsky had a blue dress stained with the president’s semen to prove it. Later in the year, boxed into a corner, Clinton would admit that he had had an “improper physical relationship” and a relationship that was “not appropriate”. However he still maintained he had not had “sexual relations”. It appeared, on closer questioning, that Clinton considered “sexual relations” hadn’t happened because he had not had contact with Lewinsky’s “genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks.” In other words giving oral sex was “sexual relations” but receiving oral sex was not.

 

 

 

Wag the Dog (1997, dir: Barry Levinson)

After the underwhelming overhyped appearance of 1970s film legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro “together for the first time” in Heat in 1995, it actually fell to director Barry Levinson to engineer an altogether more satisfying though similarly stellar, similarly 1970s collision with this pairing of De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. Working off a smart, cynical script by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, Wag the Dog stalks satirically through the story of a US president caught with his trousers down just a few days before election day. Moving quickly to avert a disaster, a White House aide (Anne Heche) calls in tweedy spin doctor Conrad Brean (De Niro), all beard and reassuring avuncularity, who suggests they cook up a crisis in a foreign land no one cares about (hello Albania), invite the President to rattle his sabre, before moving swiftly to a resolution of said conflict, and a boost in the opinion polls. Brean then co-opts Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) to stage-manage the entire phoney event – from commissioning a hokey song by Willie Nelson, to directing the “rescue” of a US military man supposedly held captive by those dastardly Albanians. And together – the wonk feeding the press with stories, the producer supplying the visuals – they proceed to wag the dog, public opinion. It’s surprisingly easily done, according to Mamet and Henkin, who milk the whole concept till the teat is flapping, then squeeze it a little more. The same can’t be said for Hoffman and De Niro, who bring just the right amount of screwball zip to roles that could easily go flat, Hoffman the permatanned Hollywood pro whose every production is essentially about himself, De Niro the trilby-wearing fixer with a bloodline going back to Machiavelli. It was all shot in just 29 days, and on a comparatively tiny budget. You could probably knock out 30 such films for one Michael Bay production. If anyone’s listening…

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman on screen together for the first time
  • The acerbic script
  • The “it could never happen, ooh it just did” scenario
  • Great support from the likes of Kirsten Dunst, William H Macy, Denis Leary and Woody Harrelson

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Wag the Dog – at Amazon