In Stolen tragedies link two fathers, living in the same town some 50 years apart. Each man abandoned his young son for a brief moment, never to see him again. The movie surrounding them is every bit the unpleasant slog one might expect, glum and murkily shot, wallowing in pedantic histrionics and badly lacking the breathing room it desperately needs.
The modern sequences feature Jon Hamm, as the dashing (what else?) Tom Adkins, a police detective ruined by his son’s disappearance some eight years earlier. When workers at a construction site discover the shriveled corpse of a child buried in a box, Tom and his wife (Rhona Mitra) fear the worst. A forensic examination dispels those concerns, revealing the body to have been there for about a half-century and prompting Matthew to begin an investigation.
Matthew’s cursory contemplation of the past melds with the events he’s exploring, as director Anders Anderson and screenwriter Glenn Taranto tell the story of hard luck drifter Matthew Wakefield (Josh Lucas), struggling to care for his three boys after the suicide death of his wife.
Both narratives bog down in their straightforward, pedestrian march toward an unsurprising destination. Thrills, humor and suspense are conspicuously absent. Any slim drama stems from the question of how the child disappearances happened. Once that mystery’s solved, and the pieces come together at the first silhouetted appearance of the kidnapper, there’s little for the audience to do but sit back and watch the actors go through their paces.
The leading men mope about, occupying bleak existences, and the screenplay goes to great lengths to remind us the two are cosmically joined in their moroseness. Hamm and Lucas earnestly drum up feelings of guilt and despair. The former drives his wife and everyone else away with his stone-faced obsessive behavior; the latter works hard to believably depict a put-upon, flawed man reeling out of control. Still, Lucas mostly gives the impression of a clichéd small town matinee idol drawn straight out of Tennessee Williams and playacting the part.
Bathed in muddy browns and yellows, the picture looks like well-worn sludge. The time periods blend together amid an overarching absence of polish, set against a drab, tired Southwestern backdrop. It’s a clichéd vision of one stoplight small town life, populated by such locals as a paunchy, overprotective gas station owner and his beautiful wife and – in the modern day scenes – a single enterprising reporter.
The biggest problem befalling Stolen, which can be seen on IFC On Demand and in limited theatrical release, is the absence of a compelling cause for the audience’s investment. The high-concept, cross-generational linkage is the primary operating conceit, with the characters remaining subservient to it and collapsing under its oppressive weight. Without fresh insights into the psychology of fathers under duress and centered on a subdued mystery robbed of its sensationalistic edge, the movie offers little but depressed characters occupying a stock, grim universe robbed of the vitality of real life.
The Upside: Jon Hamm looks almost as handsome as he does as Don Draper, for those who care about such things. The movie’s occasionally suspenseful. Other than that, uh, there’s not too much.
The Downside: The picture is a slog through drab, unpleasant territory without a single engaging conceit.
On the Side: The movie is not very good, but this article by director Anders Anderson and his producer Andy Steinman is a fascinating read: How Movie Stars Landed in Our Indie Film (The Wrap)