Without a Trace

For most of its length, this is one of the coldest films I have ever seen, and then in the last five minutes it turns extravagantly emotional. As a directorial strategy, this is beneath contempt—it's manipulative in a more Machiavellian way than any of the old soap operas ever dreamed of. The director, Stanley R. Jaffe, was the producer of Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer, and he learned that film's lessons in emotional repression all too well; Without a Trace is like a parody of Benton's bleached, white style. Kate Nelligan, as the mother of the vanished boy, is detached, intellectual, tight; her withdrawal is contrasted with the warm concern of the Italian detective on the case (Judd Hirsch) to the point of suggesting that the disappearance of her child is her punishment for not loving him enough. Family melodramas became increasingly duplicitous in the wake of Kramer; this is one of the shiftiest. With David Dukes and Stockard Channing (1983).

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