Rated R for terror and violence, and for language.
Running time: 109 min.
Release date: February 5, 1993
The Vanishing is a remake of a Dutch thriller from 1988 with the same name. That, in turn, was based on a novel titled The Golden Egg written by Tim Krabbé. The Dutch film was directed by the late George Sluizer. This American remake was also directed by Sluizer. I have not seen the original film, so for me, this American version of The Vanishing cannot be compared to the original and will be reviewed on it's own merits (or lack thereof). After having watched this film, I may have to seek the original out, so that I may enjoy the remake even less than I already did.
The movie opens with Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges) practicing his kidnapping routine. Barney appears to be a normal guy, except that Bridges has given him a strange accent and just an all-out aura of weirdness. The scenes depicting his practicing come off as somewhat comical and silly and sets a tone for the film that it does not recover from. The normal-guy appearance is expanded as we discover that he has a family and lives life as a chemistry teacher. Oh yeah, he also experiments with chloroform....on himself. So from the onset of the film, Barney is shown as a regular guy with a penchant for strangeness. Watching the character go from a bumbling fool to a dangerous killer is more an attribute to Jeff Bridges and his talent than the screenplay.
Next we meet two lovers, Jeff (Keifer Sutherland) and Diane (Sandra Bullock). They are on vacation in Washington state and appear to bicker and make up just like every other couple. They stop at a gas station for drinks, where Diane goes in but never comes out. For the next three years, Jeff goes on an obsessive quest to find answers. Later on, flashback scenes provide us with the details of her disappearance. Barney convinced her that he was a salesman and managed to get her back to his car, where she thought she was buying a gift for Jeff. Jeff meets Rita (Nancy Travis), who helps him move on from his obsession, but only temporarily. A prospective publisher wants Jeff's story, so Jeff lies and goes behind Rita's back to continue his research on Diane's disappearance. There is a silly scene where Rita is home alone as she attempts to crack the code to get into Jeff's computer. This had the two-fold effect of showing Rita to be an untrusting, nosy busybody and it also provided a ridiculous use of anagrams. This leads us to a dumb scene where Rita shows up at Jeff's hideaway wearing a wig. The screenplay really did not do Nancy Travis any favors. However, the couple reconcile their differences and all is well. Until Barney makes contact with Jeff.
At this point, the film attempts to make a comeback and deliver a decent thriller. Barney agrees to tell Jeff what happened with Diane, but first Jeff must experience everything that she did. We see the Barney character take a turn for the better here, as he now becomes a complex sociopath rather than a buffoon who stumbled ass backwards into evil. It's not enough to undo the damage already done in the first seventy minutes of the film, however. Todd Graff's screenplay is filled with clichés and contrived set-ups. When we check out his resumé we see that he wrote for the sitcome The Nanny, but also the screenplay for The Beautician and the Beast. Graff's formulaic writing here is part of the undoing of the first three-quarters of the film. Director Sluizer, I'm sure, wanted to remake his original for an American audience, but coupled with the screenplay what was accomplished was nothing more than a standard thriller with a less-than-satisfying conclusion.
Keifer Sutherland's performance was stiff and lifeless. Jeff came off as a weak character and not much sympathy could be provided through watching him. Nancy Travis had energy but the chemistry between her and Sutherland was off. Jeff Bridges made a curious choice to provide Barney with an accent and a gait that, at first, made the character very strange. As noted above, he almost brought the role a sinister edge before it all abruptly ended. With the movie's tone set in the opening scenes, it was going to take a lot to provide any thrills, but the final scenes provided some of that. The closing scene was a poor attempt at a joke and made light of everything that preceded it, bringing a return to the light-hearted tone from the beginning. It's almost as if Sluizer and company were convinced that anything less than humor would leave a bad taste. American audience are more sophisticated than many would believe.
The Vanishing provides a few thrills at the end, but the screenplay doesn't break from formula, sabotages a couple of characters and tries to compensate much too late. Jeff Bridges provides a curiously interesting performance, but the rest of the cast have nothing to work with. Held apart from it's Dutch predecessor, The Vanishing does not stand apart from the pack on it's own.