Plagued with guilt over lives lost under his command in the Vietnam War, Jake Neeley (Danny Glover) has lived alone in a remote cabin in the woods of the Pacific Northwest for the past 35 years, with little contact with other people. His only brush with society is an occasional drive into town to sell his truckload of firewood and pick up supplies from widowed storekeeper Kate (Linda Hamilton).
Jake's life of isolation comes to an abrupt end when an old army buddy arrives at his doorstep. Henry Hocknell (David Strathairn) brings his young daughter, Lenny (newcomer Zoë Weizenbaum), who is half Vietnamese. Henry is dying of lung cancer from exposure to Agent Orange during the war, and wants to leave his little girl in Jake's care. Feeling totally inadequate and terrified of the responsibility, Jake refuses. Trusting his unwavering faith in Jake, Henry slips away in the night, leaving his daughter behind.
Lenny's presence is an unwelcome reminder of everything Jake has struggled to forget. She upsets his routine and turns his life upside down. But he has no choice but to look after the little girl.
Spirited and feisty, Lenny gradually chips away at Jake's rough exterior. She even persuades him to reach out to other reclusive veterans living in crude shelters in the deep woods. One of these "bush vets" is Red (Ron Perlman), a mute, disturbed man who lost half his face when a little Vietnamese girl tossed a grenade at him. In his addled mind he can't separate Lenny from the child he holds responsible for his own anguish.
Lenny becomes a catalyst for healing for the community of forgotten vets she brings together, and for Kate, who faces her own demons. But the most damaged of all proves the most difficult to reach. Will Red ever see beyond his prejudice?
A timely and thought-provoking film, Missing In America blends social realism with a bittersweet message of hope and healing. It is a contemporary look at the toll war takes on veterans even decades later. Today many people are still suffering and dying from the Vietnam War, both here and abroad. While the story is fictional, it addresses societal issues from the Vietnam era that are all too pertinent today: the conflicted emotions of fighting when the enemy is faceless and could include anyone, even children; the discrimination against an entire ethnic group because of the actions of a few individuals; lingering health problems from exposure to chemical weapons; the angst associated with committing acts of war - even in the name of good - and the need to find peace with those acts.
MIA is based on a story by Ken Miller, screenwriter and former Green Beret who flew helicopter gunships in Vietnam. Ken was inspired to write the story when he spotted a powerful painting in an art gallery window, "Reflections" by Lee Teter, commissioned by The Vietnam Veterans of America (see www.vietnamreflections.com). The painting brought memories flooding back to Ken. He had a close call in Vietnam, in which he and his men were almost killed due to a careless mistake on Ken's part. He had always wondered what his life would be like if his men had died because of his actions. How could he ever find peace? He would feel unworthy of love, and would never again trust himself with responsibility for others. Perhaps he would just want to disappear. In reality, some vets do live like this today, sequestered in pockets of deep woods in remote areas of North America.
Missing In America is the story of such a man, and how he is driven to face his deepest conflicts, through a love he tries to deny.