I’ll admit that for the first five minutes of “Missing Jane” I had a bad feeling. CGI war footage of American bombers fighting off German planes seemed well and good for a video game but in a feature length live action film? Once again I seemed faced with a well meaning indie director forced out of their league by a story that simply required too much of a minimalist budget. And then…well then the movie came to life and didn’t quit from there.
With no combat experience and new to the squad Idaho (Josh Spiegel) is justifiably a bundle of nerves before his first mission with the flight crew aboard the “Jane”. After some last minute preparation aboard the aircraft, Idaho returns to his bunk to find his fellow servicemen waiting for him and is introduced to the team including Archie (Josh Berresford) the ranking officer and Preston (George Rutherford) the badass of the bunch. The quiet ease of this scene, showing Idaho warming up to the squad over a game of cards as they compare lucky charms, is quickly replaced with high tension as the mission to Germany turns disastrous. After a harrowing air battle the plane is forced to the ground with those having survived the attack taking refuge in a house in the middle of the woods. Most of the film takes place within the house as the squad tries to decide whether or not they should stay put and what to do with a critically injured serviceman. Finding the owner of the house, a German officer (Larry Mihlon), hanging from the ceiling upstairs, Idaho passes the time reading from his journal and learning about his disastrous marriage to a cold, scheming wife (Erica Highberg). Tisch is able to consistently surprise the audience turning what we think is going to happen against us both within the context of the soldiers stuck in the house and in the flashback to the German officer with his wife. The story is able to successfully shift from war film to character study to thriller providing an engaging and rewarding independent film.
What makes “Missing Jane” work is that Jason Tisch and company rise to the occasion given such a tough subject matter. With a period piece the easiest thing to botch would be the acting but the cast assembled handle their roles well, adding three dimensional touches to their characters and allowing the escalating tension within the house to develop naturally. Scenes such as Archie resenting having to lose his lucky charm because it reveals his Jewish heritage while the others keep theirs or the discussion regarding whether or not to tell a dying man about a grievous error on his part all come off as realistic, lending the proper gravity to the material it needs to succeed. Tisch has a real eye for the 1940’s and everything from the interior of the plane to the clothing of the characters has an authentic feel to it, allowing the film to transcend its budgetary constraints. The CGI effects could have been a humongous liability given a different cast and crew but the skill provided by the actors, Tisch’s impressive direction and the excellent DV cinematography cover up the rough patches.
This is not to say the film doesn’t have some problems. The flashbacks are effective but get redundant after a while, the audience understands the wife is a cold fish and the continuing reinforcement is unnecessary. This segment ends well but the buildup could have been greatly reduced. Likewise the last ten minutes feel a bit rushed, a character who has seemed a touch unstable goes off the deep end and while the film works, their transition to full blown threat could have been built up a little more. However these are small gripes in an otherwise gripping suspense story.
Jason Tisch and company are to be congratulated for tackling such an ambitious project and coming out with a film like “Missing Jane” that is able to hit the highs that it does. I eagerly look forward to his next feature and encourage those who are in the mood for a war film with heart and brains to seek it out.