Missing Pieces tells the story of David (Mark Boone Junior), a mentally unstable man trying desperately to get back together with Delia (Melora Walters), the woman he loves. In a vague attempt to reconcile their relationship, David concocts and executes a scheme to kidnap two lonely souls (Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel) and force them to fall in love. He tranquilizes them, throws them in the back of his van and drives them across the country. When they awake, they have no idea where they are or how they got there. David then puts them through a series of bizarre situations, each with its own set of instructions that they must follow to the letter, ultimately forcing them to depend upon each other for survival.
As the film progresses, it jumps back and forth in time, giving us glimpses into each of the character’s lives before the kidnapping took place. At first it’s a bit vague as to what exactly is going on, then gradually everything sort of fits together and the missing pieces are filled in. It is unclear how much time passes throughout the film. Subtle hints are dropped in the dialog here and there, but ultimately it does not matter. There are no specific plot points that have to fall into place in any sort of sequence. Instead, each scene focuses more so on evoking specific emotions rather than advancing the plot, and at that it truly succeeds.
It’s hard to pin down a specific protagonist. As my theatre professor in college once told me, there is always one protagonist and one antagonist. Perhaps that’s true for the most part. In this case, however, he was sorely mistaken. One could argue that David is the protagonist and Delia the antagonist. Or perhaps David is the antagonist and his victims, Deylan and Maggie, are both protagonists, which makes the most logical sense given society’s generally negative view toward kidnapping. True, David is mentally unstable and commits malicious acts (in one scene he smashes lightbulbs in a playground for no apparent reason). Part of you wants to hate him, but at the same time it’s hard not to sympathize with his character.
Missing Pieces was helmed by first time writer/director Kenton Bartlett, who began working on the film at age nineteen and labored on it for four long, painstaking years. Oftentimes with first time directors on a low budget, the goal is to make a film that takes place in as few locations as possible, with only a few characters, and the minimum acceptable running time. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Chris Nolan’s Following and Kevin Smith’s Clerks all come to mind (all of which I loved by the way). However, Bartlett seems to have gone quite the opposite route. The film was shot in four different states, and at a running time of just under two hours, it is a feature film in every sense of the word. True, the story revolves around a few central characters, but there is a large supporting cast, including countless extras (many of whom I’m sure didn’t know they were being filmed). The film has a reported ultralow budget of only eighty thousand dollars, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. I kept waiting for the miniscule budget to show its face, and a few times it came close, but it never hurt because of it.
The performances were outstanding. Veterans Mark Boone Junior and Melora Walters were excellent as always, and newcomers Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel delivered equally stunning performances. Some of the landscape shots are absolutely breathtaking, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Jonathan Arturo. The cinematography is perfectly complemented by an outstanding score by composer Richey Rynkowski, who, rumor has it, worked in a nightclub for a year to pay for the orchestra, as there was no money in the budget for music.
Missing Pieces screams in your face with blaring originality, but at the same time you can’t help but feel you’ve seen it all someplace before. Instantly the movie Saw comes to mind, given the premise, but it is a far cry from the gritty horror bloodbath that Saw was. There was definitely some Paul Thomas Anderson influence in there; I think it’s no coincidence that one of the characters is named Magnolia, nor that the film stars Melora Walters, who also played in Magnolia. I think I saw some Terrence Malick influence as well, what with the sparse, unconventional, seemingly random bits of voiceover narration characteristic of Malick’s films. But Missing Pieces does Malick one up in this regard; the narration in this is not provided by any of the main characters, but rather by a self help audiobook, which provides no information pertaining to the story or any of the characters in particular, but rather provides insight into the lives of people, perhaps even begging the audience to reflect upon their own lives. Or perhaps it was used merely as a juxtaposition against the backdrop of what is actually going on in the characters’ lives. Whatever the case, it works perfectly (or perhaps imperfectly, which is why it works so well).
Kenton Bartlett has done such an excellent job of blending so many genres together. The film has laughs, but it is not a comedy. It is thrilling at times, but it is not a thriller. It has action, but it is not an action movie. If you were to look for this film at your local video store, I wouldn’t know what genre to tell you to look under, but it’s definitely worth looking for until you find it.