A 1982 thriller that brought a true story to the big screen: Missing is the story of the disappearance of journalist Charles Horman in Chile in 1973.
Based on the book by Thomas Hauser, The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice (1978), director Costa-Gavras adapted the book for the big screen.
Starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as the father and wife of Charles Horman, the film starts in the aftermath of the US-based coup in Chile, deposing Salvador Allende as president and installing Augusto Pinochet as the new president.
The Hormans are convinced that Charles has become a victim during the coup, and as they track his whereabouts, meeting government officials, helpful locals and guerrillas, they slowly realize their government had a hand in what has been going on in Chile.
The film’s opening includes a statement from the filmmaker saying all the events are true and with a postcript at the end saying Horman was sent his son’s body seven months after the coup.
Released in February 1982, the Polygram/Universal film was controversial from its release, asserting the US government involvement in Chile’s coup as well as a hand in the death of Horman, who wrote for the Christian Science Monitor.
The film was banned by Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, and the film and book were removed from the US market after both the author and filmmaker were sued for libel. In the film, Chile is never mentioned, but two Chilean cities are mentioned.
The lawsuit against Hauser ended because of the statute of limitations, while Costa-Gravas won the $150 million defamation of character lawsuit alleged by former American ambassador Nathaniel Davis and two other government officials, and the film was re-released.
The film was awarded the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982 with Jack Lemmon chosen as Best Actor. The film won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay the following year. Made for a budget of $5 million, the film grossed $16 million at the box office.
Although the US government denied involvement in Chile’s coup and the death of Horman, documents declassified in the late 1990s confirmed their involvement.