Ron Howard's eager-to-please enthusiasm has yielded some of Hollywood's fluffiest confections, and even when he's delved into shadier territory, as in A Beautiful Mind, it's always with one eye firmly on the box office. So it's rewarding - and startling - to see him unleash his dark side to powerful effect in The Missing.
It's a shame, but less surprising, that moviegoers turned their noses up at this stark, brutal Western, in which Cate Blanchett's eldest daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) is snatched by a slave-trading Apache witch-doctor. Blanchett deliversher customary rock-solid performance as ferociously self-sufficient frontier rancher Maggie Gilkeson, while Tommy Lee Jones, playing her estranged, gone-native poppa who's now attempting reconciliation with his stern, resentful daughter, is equally impressive. They form a memorably tense alliance, setting out on a Searchers-echoing quest to save Lily from her kidnappers.
Howard fumbles the final action scenes, but his love of Westerns pays dividends throughout, with majestic imagery, beautiful landscapes and a plot that sidesteps the genre's hoarier clichés. Deserves to blaze a trail on DVD.