The fact that they are both based on true stories is possibly the only similarity between Coal Miner’s Daughter and Spacek’s other Best Picture nominee Missing. Missing doesn’t have the gloss of a Best Picture film but instead employs the documentary style favoured by its director Costa-Gavras.
Set in Chile during the rule of Pinochet, Spacek plays Beth Horman the wife of a radical journalist who goes missing after their house was ransacked. Charlie’s disappearance prompts his father to arrive in Chile and seek help from the American consulate in finding his son. Ed had never approved of his son’s life choices and wondered why he’d never settled down and got a proper job. Whereas Charlie was a fairly liberal young man, his father is incredibly conservative and is a practising Christian Scientist meaning he’s very much a man of faith. Ed and Beth clash over the latter’s lack of co-operation with the men who are attempting to help find Charlie. Beth’s distrust of the men is later explained through a series of flashbacks showing what sort of a man Captain Ray Tower actually is. As they spend more time together, Ed and Beth continue to bond as he realises the horrors of the country his son briefly called home. With the American government appearing more suspicious then they first seemed, Ed begins to give up hope of ever seeing his son again. Though the ending is predictable, especially if you were aware of the original story, it doesn’t make it any less shocking.
Missing was a film that focused on a recent crisis and gave it a human face. Costa-Gavras portrayed the Chile of the time where bodies were simply strewn across the streets for all to see and where the sound of gunshots was a regular occurrence. Ricardo Aronovich’s superb cinematography captured all this brutal detail perfectly and he particularly excelled when shooting the scenes in Chile’s national stadium. The human face of the film was Ed who was experiencing the horrific nature of the country first hand and we as the audience were meant to relate to him. The fact that Ed was played by Jack Lemmon meant that he came across as likeable despite his initial prejudices and beliefs. Lemmon’s performance was just brilliant as he made the audience identify with a man who was just trying to find his son. Though Beth wasn’t as innocent as Loretta Lynn, Spacek still played an extremely down-to-Earth character. Spacek played Beth as somebody who was horrified by what was going on around but had got used to it over time. Spacek also really came alive when portraying Beth’s defiance in the face of the American authorities. Another memorable aspect of the film was Vangelis’ electric score which contributed to both the jarring nature of the Chilean conflict and the emotional aspects of the Ed/Beth relationship. Even though I found it tough to get through at times, Missing was nonetheless an accomplished film which told the story of a conflict through the eyes of those who didn’t quite want to believe it. It is definitely a piece of historical film-making and one that is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.