By Alexandria Harris
Premise: An American writer goes missing in a Latin American country and those close to him spend the entire movie trying to find out what happened to him.
“They can’t hurt us, we’re Ameericans!”-Charlie
“I guess he’s trying to be a writer.” -Mr. Harmon, when asked about his son’s occupation.
“Sometimes I honestly think that that boy is incapable of doing anything, except of course give idealistic speeches or write novels that will never be published.”-Mr. Harmon
I honestly don’t know what I was expecting out of this movie. In the very beginning, they had a voice over stating the movie depicted true events and names had been changed to protect people and the film. It was hard to be funny or lighthearted about the film because it made no attempt at being one. It was chilling and was almost separate from any emotion I tried to muster up to connect with it.
It starts in chaos. We’re in an unnamed Latin American country (supposedly Chile) and fear is in the air. Latin American military troops are everywhere, killing, sacking, and keeping order. For some reason, tons of Americans are in this Latin American country and trying to leave.
In the first scene, Charlie Harmon and his friend Terry are rushing to get back before curfew. They stay in a hotel because they can’t get home. Terry asks Charlie if he thinks it’s a good idea to be taking a lot of notes, to which he makes an entry saying that very thing.
In the morning, they go home to Charlie’s wife Beth. She was very worried about them because gunfire could be heard everywhere. Beth wants to leave with Charlie and Terry and so all three of them go to try and get to the airport.
Beth goes on ahead of them while Charlie and Terry try to leave another way. They are stopped by the military when two men have Terry at gunpoint and walk her over to a secluded area where they search her.
Terry and Charlie get out of that situation safely and take advice from a freelance writer from New York to hole up in a safe place until they can get out of the country and not to go to the consulate because it’s a mile away and the streets were literally murder.
Beth goes to see Frank, who is a friend of hers and Charlie. Frank is an American and explains that the country has turned into a free fire zone.
She leaves, but misses her bus and isn’t able to get another. She tries to get a taxi, but they are either hurrying trying to get back before curfew or they won’t take her where she needs to go.
The curfew announcement sounds and Beth sticks to the shadows, hiding along buildings. She bumps into a store display and the lights come on because the store owner is hiding there. She begs him for help, but he refuses so she hides in the street between buildings.
She arrives home to meet Charlie, but the house is ransacked. A neighbor comes to tell her that the soldiers came in the night. He did not see Charlie, but warns Beth to leave because they might come back.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s dad Mr. Harmon is trying to find him through efforts in Washington but isn’t getting anywhere through various state departments. He decides to go down to the country and meet with the ambassadors to find out what’s going on.
Charlie hasn’t been captured by the military, he isn’t in any hospitals, and all the neighbors have been interviewed. He seems to have literally disappeared.
Mr. Harmon does not trust Beth, because she is married to Charlie and apparently has the same idealistic spirit that he does.
Beth is rude to the ambassador and U.S. government officials when visiting them because they have stonewalled her for the past two weeks. Mr. Harmon thinks she is being unreasonable and is irritated with her.
The two meet with Terry, who describes the last time she saw Charlie and how they ran into a man in the navy who was pretending to be French and apparently spilling military secrets with them. They took notes, and Terry explained that Charlie told her how odd it was that the American navy man would tell them so much.
Terry and Beth tell Mr. Harmon about meeting an American official who told them if they needed anything to call him. They do so after Charlie disappears, but the intoxicated man tries making passes at both of them. They lock the door to their room and hide from him.
With this Mr. Harmon finally believes that things are not what they seem in this unnamed Latin American country.
Suffice it to say, I was bored forty minutes into the movie and I had another hour and forty minutes to go. It is very dark and has the same monotonous tone through the whole thing.
The audience can tell who the villains are, but that there is no hope. The thing that holds the movie together is the relationship between Beth and Mr. Harmon as they try to find out what happened to Charlie.
The movie is very political–and the art of writing is portrayed in a negative light. Mr. Harmon seemed to imply that Charlie had gotten himself into the whole mess because he was a writer I would also argue that writing is just another metaphor for freedom. In the same way Mr. Harmon disapproves of Charlie’s writing and idealism, the Latin American government disapproves of their people having freedom of expression.
It’s very interesting that the beginning of the movie says these are all true events and the end of the movie has an official statement by the Department of State declaring that these events never happened.
I didn’t enjoy this movie because it was more about the shadow of a writer instead of how writing affects our lives. Mr. Harmon didn’t approve of his son’s writing and it made for a toxic relationship. The movie was also way more political than I thought it would be.
The emotion was there, but because of the corrupt nature of the government, you already knew what was going to happen. You know there’s not a happy ending and the road there is just shy of suspenseful, just slightly off kilter. Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon give great performances, but if I evaluate it from my current system, I’d have to give it 3/10 stars.
Alexandria Harris is a writer and former reporter on WSUM 91.7. When she isn’t watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, she tweets regularly as @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.