THE VANISHING (1993) is a psychological thriller (American remake of the 1988 Franco-Dutch film) directed by George Sluizer, screenplay by Todd Graff, and based on the novel of the same name written by Tim Krabbe. Starring Jeff Bridges (Tron Legacy, The Big Lebowski), Kiefer Sutherland (24, Lost Boys), Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, The Proposal), and Nancy Travis (Almost Perfect, Becker).
Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges) is a strange man. He's intelligent, soft spoken, awkward, and morally complicated. He's got a wife and kids, and a career as a chemistry teacher; you would think this kind of cohesive stability would be enough right? Wrong! No sir... See, Barney is more or less mentally ill. He gets these funny thoughts about the nature of Good and Evil. What makes a good man? Is it about doing the right thing no matter what? What makes an evil man? Is it really about choice? And if so, could a good man who chooses to do good be just as capable of doing evil? He's been meditating upon this concept for quite some time, unbeknownst to his family and colleagues. Soon, he begins acting on it. He begins these little social experiments. It starts off innocuous enough. Filling a picnic basket with spiders found in his cabin, using them to purposely scare the shit out of his own daughter; if only to be there to comfort her by consolation stating "Aw Honey, don't be frightened! They're only spiders!". Which he quickly disposes of. These and similar premeditated acts of "heroism" make him a kind of hero in his family's eyes. The truth is, well... good 'ol Barney is bat-shit crazy.
Now we see barney for the first 7 minutes of this movie preparing for what he's about to do. Essentially what he wants to do is find and abduct a victim, and then proceed to bury them alive in an undisclosed location near his cabin retreat somewhere in the woods. Why? Because it's Thursday. Because the hands on the clock read 10 to 6, and he had a roast-beef sandwich for lunch. Huh?! And that has what to do with the tea in China?! Absolutely nothing. He doesn't really explain why he wants to do it. Maybe he doesn't really want to do it at all, who knows? The fact is, he does it because he can. And someone needs to die a horrific terrible death by asphyxiation; Simply because he feels the need to test a theory to himself that a good man can be capable of doing such a despicable deed. And well, I'm not a psychologist, but I suppose crazy people are willed to act on these absurd impulses and thoughts. No real motivation at all is all the motive they need.
So he puts a plan into practice. He works and re-works clever lies and scenarios in order to find the right ensnaring words to try and coerce a victim into his station wagon; so that he can use his trusty rag covered in chloroform to render them unconscious. He even knocks himself out with chloroform and records how long it takes to work and how long the effect will leave a man of his weight unconscious; and how far away from the cabin the victim can safely be transported before he or she will wake up; Wears a creepy non-descript tan/blue reversible jacket and sweater; you know, the innocent forgettable kind that you can't even accurately describe to the police. Same with the car that he drives. A kind of a "National Lampoon's Vacation" innocuous, non-descript, forgettable green station wagon. I'm starting to think the more "normal" a person looks and acts, the more likely they ARE a potential serial killer. Thanks for the heads-up, Barney. You're a trooper.
So after several failed attempts to lure people into his car (which are absolutely hilarious, by the way), enter Jeff and Diane (Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullack); a couple traveling on vacation who become separated at a rest stop. Opportunity arises and poor Diane falls victim to Barney's diabolical charm (and a healthy dose of chloroform). Jeff can't find his wife, local authorities aren't of any help, and for 3 years Jeff becomes a man on a mission; handing out "Have You Seen My Wife" fliers and pamphlets, appearing on talk shows, etc. He begins to give up hope of ever finding Diane again, begins to date again; just as he believes things are hopeless forever, Barney finds him. Tells him he knows where Diane is, and explains Jeff would have to experience everything she experienced to fully understand. One thing I can say about Barney; the man may be nuts, but he's made out of pretty stern stuff. Oh yeah, he can take a beating; and the man can fall down flights of stairs like a champ.
The Verdict: A- For Jeff Bridge's character alone. He makes a memorable, superb, loopy, and somehow likeable psychopath. There are quite a few unintentional laughs too. The movie is just... I dont know, off in some way lol. Regardless, this movie is great!!
What can I say about this movie...This feels a little strange; I'm conflicted. By strange I mean, this movie had the absolute reverse affect on me that I believe the director's intentions were. I have never seen the original, but I've read it's much more creepy/suspenseful, and subjects the viewer to a much more serious tone. I can't say that I felt that in this remake. I found myself feeling sorry for the antagonist; and wanting him to succeed lol.
And I'm a little biased when it comes to Jeff Bridges. He's Jeff Bridges, man...The Dude. I like the actor, alright? I mean, the man could barbeque and eat a live baby on national TV right after clubbing a sea otter to death, and The Big Lebowski would still be one of my favorite movies of all time.
After a while through failed abduction attempts and various mishaps, Barney becomes something like an endearing underdog. Against all odds, it's like at some point, you want to see him succeed in catching a victim. Like, you want to cheer him on. Help him out, give him constructive criticism lol. The guy's tactics are so completely terrible, it's amazing how he lured the one he DID manage to get. You'd think it might be easy; on paper, finding the victim would be the easiest part of the entire endeavor, but for poor Barney... I mean, he's got problems with the door locks, drops the fucking chloroform bottle...chloroforms himself by accident, etc.
It's like if Shemp from the 3 Stooges was doped to the rafters on Mescaline and Methaqualone and decided to kill Moe and Larry. That's kind of how Barney's character is. You keep thinking to yourself "Jesus man, you weren't cut out for this! Don't quit your day job!". He's too awkward to be the monster he's trying to become. And Jeff Bridges is such a good actor... You wind up liking his crazy character. He's a charming, odd, bad-at-being-bad Antagonist. Which is why I gave his character the most attention in this review. Barney is the main attraction here. And this is a great watch simply for his character's antics alone.