Writer-director Noah Buschel 's ambitious, stylish neo-noir The Missing Person starts so self-consciously that it verges on parody but impressively gathers steam, gaining depth and breadth as it evokes 9/11 post-traumatic stress. It's a great-looking movie, with an evocative use of music and, in rugged-yet-sensitive Michael Shannon, has an actor whose forceful, focused presence is the film's sturdy linchpin.
Shannon's John Rosow, a martini-loving, hardscrabble Chicago private eye, is awakened in the middle of the night with an offer he can't afford not to take. For $500 a day plus expenses he is to board a train to Los Angeles at 7 a.m. to tail one of its passengers (Frank Wood), who has in tow a little Mexican boy. Rosow is to bring the man, about whom he is initially told nothing, to New York.
In time-honored fashion, Rosow encounters an array of people who are inevitably either comical, ironic or sarcastic - or all three. Just as the viewer is about to give up on the possibility that anyone will ever give Rosow anything resembling an ordinary, normal response, the film adroitly shifts gears; we gradually realize that Rosow and his target have had their lives transformed by 9/11. In a sense, Rosow is as much a missing man as is his quarry.
Despite honoring noir genre conventions, Buschel also draws upon his fertile imagination in dialogue and in storytelling that allows his film gradually to accrue meaning.