|The poster for the 1983 kidnapping drama.|
Beth Gutcheon adapted the screenplay from her novel Still Missing, which was inspired by a true case involving a six-year-old boy's disappearance in Manhattan in 1980. Gutcheon could have easily stressed the suspenseful aspects of her story and made the movie another crime thriller. Instead, she concentrates on the people involved and their relationships.
|Kate Nelligan as the mother.|
Much of the film's tension can be attributed to its realistic portrait of an upper middle-class, urban neighborhood. From the downtown delicatessen to the children's playground in the park, the world created in Without a Trace is one considered safe by the families who live there. It's why Susan doesn't hesitate to let her son walk three short blocks to school. When a crime does occur in this "safe" world, it is all the more horrifying. As one of the policemen says: "If it happened here, it could happen anywhere."
Nelligan conveys courage, frustration and determination in every frame of the movie. It is a bravura performance in a critical role. One simply has to watch her face when a telephone rings, her eyes filled with a mixture of hope and terror.
Director Stanley R. Jaffe employs sound and silence to great effect throughout the film. He uses a tea kettle whistling in a silent apartment to convey the mother's growing alarm as she slowly realizes that something has happened to her son. The sounds of a clicking toy, a whimpering dog, and police sirens are all deftly used to complement the action. Jaffe skillfully reminds us that movies can do more than move and that there is more to sound than just dialogue. Amazingly, it was his only directorial effort, despite a successful career producing films such as Kramer Vs. Kramer, The Bad News Bears, and Fatal Attraction.
|Nelligan, David Dukes, and Judd Hirsch.|
Without a Trace is a carefully crafted film that represents Hollywood filmmaking at its best. Kate Nelligan's performance is worth the price of admission. The rest of the movie is simply frosting on the cake-- but it is all very tasty indeed.