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National Catholic Register
Weekly Video Picks and Passes from Steven D. Greydanus






The Missing: Problematic religious themes; recurring graphic violence; strong menace; an implied non-marital relationship; a suicide; crass language and minor profanity. Black Hawk Down: Relentless graphic battlefield violence in an urban setting; recurring crude language and profanity. Mature viewing. Lady and the Tramp 2: Mild canine menace. Fine family viewing.

Recently released in a DVD extended edition, The Missing is an anti-Western from Ron Howard, who in the last year has gone from the positive moral drama of Cinderella Man to the over-the-top anti-Catholic claptrap of The Da Vinci Code.

With its spiritually problematic themes, The Missing leans more toward the latter end of the spectrum than the former, though a more appropriate point of comparison and contrast would be recent DVD pick The Searchers, John Ford’s classic 1956 exploration of the dark side of Western iconography.

Despite strong plot-level and thematic similarities between the two Westerns, the films are virtual opposites. Ford’s film challenged assumptions still current in 1950s audiences, while Howard’s film merely panders to politically correct current attitudes regarding gender roles, racism and so on. In place of the Indian-hating cowboy played by John Wayne in Ford’s film, Howard gives us an Indian-wannabe tracker (Tommmy Lee Jones) who left his white family to live with the Indians and now dresses like an Apache while practicing native spirituality.

Representing Christianity is an independent white medicine woman (Cate Blanchett) who refuses to marry her cowboy lover and says things like “You never know what diseases these Indians have.” The movie pits the heroes against an evil Indian witch doctor who seems to have real spiritual power, while the Christians seem all but defenseless. Neither cathartic nor escapist, neither persuasive nor inspiring, The Missing is a gritty, exhausting tale that took too long in its non-extended form and offers no incentive for making the trip.

Also recently released in a DVD extended edition, but much more worthwhile, is Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the true story of a supposedly routine, 30-minute snatch-and-grab aimed at capturing high-ranking enemy officers in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. The mission spiraled out of control into a desperate 15-hour ground war merely to survive and escape.

Foreshadowing this year’s excellent United 93, Black Hawk Down evokes the specter of 9/11, which preceded the film’s release by only three months. An ominous column of smoke rising from a city skyline, people watching helplessly via video screens as a catastrophe unfolds before their eyes in real time, enemies striking an unexpected and terrible blow — all followed by a second, equally terrible blow.

Opening subtitles explain briefly the reasons for the American presence in Somalia, while suggesting that the Clinton administration’s resolve wasn’t what it should have been. The film hints, too, at the long-term consequences of the disaster on American resolve in Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire and Bosnia. But all of that is incidental. Scott’s film — like the newspaper series on which it is based — is essentially concerned with the events themselves, not with interpretation or commentary. It’s a harrowing, unforgettable experience, one unlike any other war picture that has ever been made.

Can it really be that Disney is already recycling its cut-rate home-video sequels of classic films? It must be, for Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure is now in its second “limited time only” release. That said, Scamp’s Adventure is an okay follow-up to the original Lady and the Tramp, offering a family-friendly depiction of loving parents and a restless child who ultimately discovers that Dad and Mom know best.

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