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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Crushed Film Festival presents: The Vanishing (U.S.)

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 5:02 PM6 Comments


The Movie: The Vanishing (U.S.)

The Crush Object: Kiefer Sutherland

The Story: Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges) rehearses an abduction using ether and a bunch of Ted Bundy-ish props, and is generally a creeper. Not coincidentally, Jeff (Kiefer) and Diane (Sandra Bullock) go on vacation, get in a fight, and make up — and minutes later, Diane disappears like a fart in the wind from a gas-station convenience store.

Jeff spends the next three years trying in vain to find Diane, to get some closure on her seeming evaporation. He does manage to fall in love again — with Rita (Nancy Travis), a coffee-shop waitress who seems more like she needs a hobby than like she's legit attracted to him, but in fairness, he's sporting the stringy mullet and eye-bags of a man on a mission — but even though they move in together, he's still working the Diane mystery in secret, pretending to have joined the National Guard so he can nip off once a month to a skeeze hotel room where he stores all his materials.

Rita's pretty much had it with him in that regard, and she's set to leave Jeff when Barney makes contact. Now it's Rita who has to solve a kidnapping mystery, in time to save Jeff's life.

The Vanishing is a remake, technically, of a 1988 Dutch movie by the same name, and directed by the same guy. The Netherlands version is a profoundly disturbing two hours that interrogates what the audience believes about, and expects from, everything from mysteries to the half-life of grief to what motivates a sociopath — and it's superior in every way. You have to wonder what George Sluizer wanted to happen, or how much control he had over the process in the first place; certainly fidelity to the original isn't necessary, but looking at the work product, I suspect Sluizer of trying to make the original look as much better by comparison as he could. But it's as simple as the difference in the endings, really, and because executives no doubt informed Sluizer that his original downbeat conclusion wouldn't fly, the American version is a straightforward thriller that has a number of opportunities to do something interesting, and takes none of them.

The idea that the next girlfriend might find the mystery/puzzle aspect of Diane's disappearance as appealing as she finds it threatening, for instance. The original didn't do that either, and at least it's the woman coming to the rescue here, but it's the man who gets the (memorably gnarly, to the film's credit) killing blow, and the entire last sequence is an utterly standard unkillable-killer fight cycle. While the script is surprisingly good about not overexplaining connections, it doesn't make as much as it should of said connections, doesn't push the puzzle aspect that might justify the remake's existence.

It's just a bit dull. Kiefer's a bit tentative — he proved not a decade later that this is the kind of role he could own — and Bridges isn't good at all, doing some sort of homage to the original with a foggy accent and a pageboy haircut.

Inessential if you haven't seen the 1988 flick, irritating if you have.

The Backstory: A 24-related crush on Kiefer prompted me to revisit the back catalog. This is one of the better entries (The Cowboy Way; enough said).

The Embarrassment Level: 2

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  • lsn says:

    I agree that it's irritating if you've seen the original – I hated the remake when I saw it, mostly because of the changes to the ending. I haven't gone back to watch either again though, so no idea if my reaction would be as strong now.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, Kiefer. The Lost Boys did more to make me a woman then you'll ever know.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    It's not just the ending, though. They change the structure of the entire first half of the film so you see Bridges testing his plan out before Bullock disappears, so you know right away he's a psycho, whereas in the original, when you first see that character, it's in the store, and you just think he's an ordinary guy. Not only that, but in the original, the couple was a likable and believable pair, so when she disappeared, you understood why he cared so much and was so obsessed, and you cared about what happened to her; by contrast, in the remake, I never bought Sutherland and Bullock as a couple. It's just a total misfire from beginning to end. Oddly enough, the only one who I thought worked in the remake was Nancy Travis, since her part was made more interesting.

  • Lisa says:

    But, but — if the remake hadn't been made, we'd have one less movie of Kiefer prettiness to appreciate! I do wish movie makers would stop pandering to American audiences, as the ending really sucked. Kiefer made up for it, though.

  • MaryAnne says:

    I always seem to end up at the gas station where Bullock disappears when I'm traveling from southeastern Washington to the Seattle area, and overall quality of the movie aside, I'm always just a little creeped out, expecting Jeff Daniels to try and sell me a bracelet …

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