Missing is Mr. Costa-Gavras's most beautifully achieved political melodrama to date, a suspense-thriller of real cinematic style, acted with immense authority by Jack Lemmon, as Charles Horman's father, Ed Horman, and Sissy Spacek as Charles's wife, Beth.
Though Costa-Gavras clearly has a political axe to grind, he manages to do so without haranguing the viewer, keeping the film's focus on his characters and masterfully building tension as the story moves toward its stinging resolution.
By the time Missing begins its crucial last half-hour, a strange thing has happened. We care about this dead American, and his wife and father, almost despite the movie. The performances of Spacek and Lemmon carry us along through the movie's undisciplined stylistic displays.
Costa-Gavras's antipathy to Americans appears to be so deep-seated that he can't create American characters. The only real filmmaking is in the backgrounds: in the anxious, ominous atmosphere of a city under martial law -- the sirens, the tanks, the helicopters, the feeling of abnormal silences and of random terror.
This is a movie with an admittedly leftist slant. Some of the scenes are gruesome and powerful. But its politics are distracting, making the film less an artistic undertaking and more a political statement. [12 Feb 1982, p.11]