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.



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© Steve Morrissey 2021







Your Friends and Neighbors

Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller and Jason Patric in Your Friends & Neighbors

 

 

Like writer/director LaBute’s In The Company of Men, his 1997 debut, Your Friends and Neighbors deals with a theme that’s current in cinema – that all men are rubbish. LaBute focuses on three self-obsessed friends, travelling further into their psyches as the film progresses. And the further he travels, the shallower the trio appear. Contemporary gents, LaBute appears to be saying, have benefited enormously from the liberalising cultural shift of the 1960s, but these days instead of being high, they’re more high and dry.

For some people this film might be a bit preachy, a bit speechy, and it’s true that LaBute’s origins as a writer for the stage seem fairly evident. Perhaps the way for me to sell it is to describe it as a dyspeptic Woody Allen drama, except LaBute is prepared to venture beyond the bedroom door (a territory Allen never penetrates, if that’s the word, unless armed with an arsenal of jokes). Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller and Jason Patric (after Speed 2 this is revelatory stuff) are the three dudes, all dressed properly, in good jobs, used to the best. Amy Brenneman and Catherine Keener play Eckhart and Stiller’s other (definitely better) halves, with Patric and Nastassja Kinski as a pair of singletons spreading a little nastiness wherever they lay their libidinous heads.

LaBute has been out there, in the gyms and workplace eateries, the coffee bars and metros, and he’s noticed how bloody selfish people, especially men, seem to have become. And these are the winners in life! A great film for lovers of dark comedy in the Mamet style. Just don’t expect to be whistling once it’s over.

© Steve Morrissey 1999

 

Your Friends & Neighbors – at Amazon