Man, movies like this are almost a shame. Except for two things, Stolen is a well crafted journey into the most horrible thing that can happen to any parent and how life tries to go on afterward. Take any moment of this film not affected by those two previously mentioned things and you'd be impressed with the acting, direction and the writing. But those two things just cripple the whole narrative and leaves it limping like an Olympic sprinter who just pulled his hamstring. What makes it so bad is that the problems with those two things are so screamingly obvious, it's impossible to understand how no one involved with this production didn't see and recognize what needed to be fixed. Granted, fixing those two things would have likely required some significant changes to the rest of Stolen which is otherwise perfectly okay as it is. The difference between good and great, however, is often the willingness to do that. To not ignore or brush aside a weakness in a script because it's too fundamental to the story to alter without altering everything else. If those two flaws had been addressed, this would have been a different motion picture. It also would have been a lot better.
Tom Adkins (Jon Hamm) is a police detective in 2008 still haunted by the disappearance of his son 8 years ago when the two of them stopped at a roadside diner on the 4th of July. When a small corpse is uncovered at a construction site, Tom thinks the worst but it turns out to be the body of a boy who died 50 years before his son. As Tom investigates in his time, we flash back 50 years to Matthew Wakefield (Josh Lucas) and his youngest son, John (Jimmy Bennett). With his wife a suicide and his other two boys taken in by his sister-in-law, Matt and the mentally-challenged John hit the road in a desperate search for work. As their tale cruises toward John's inevitable death, Tom is driven to solve that crime as a substitute for his missing child. And as you can probably guess, Tom discovers that the two are connected.
Let me state that I quite liked watching Stolen for a long way through. No one can brood on screen like Jon Hamm and the way he keeps the awful pain of Tom's lost son an inch under his skin at every moment is almost mesmerizing. Matthew and John being tossed about by fate like bits of flotsam in a storm is also compelling, even though you know how it's going to end. Director Anders Anderson uses some amazing transitions to take us between the ages and both Jessica Chastain and Morena Baccarin shine in their roles. If you've never seen either woman before, you end the film wanting to see a lot more of both. I would still call this a good movie.
there are those two things. Others may not mind then and perhaps I'm being too finicky, but they're such glaring narrative mistakes that I cannot overlook them. One if that Tom has a suspect in his son's abduction. The other is the nature of the connection between the two missing/dead boys.
First, the suspect. He's a character who, when he enters the story, is in prison for "similar crimes" to the disappearance of Tom's son. Any viewer will therefore naturally assume he's guilty, which could have been the basis of a great twist but isn't. So, the audience starts out knowing who killed Tom's son and when it becomes clear that killing is linked with the dead boy from 1958, the audience also immediately knows who's responsible for that death. Stolen is a mystery that spoils its own mystery and doesn't seem to realize it. Another problem with the suspect is that he's already behind bars, which really throws a monkey wrench in trying to create any tension or drama around him. There's a reference to his conviction being overturned, but if that happened Tom would instantly be on the guy like white on rice. The suspect being in prison is what protects him, so the idea he might get out is actually a good thing if you're rooting for Tom. Furthermore, there's a major difference emotionally and psychologically from having a missing child and suspecting a specific person has killed your child. The latter is what's going on in this movie but Tom and his wife (Rhona Mitra) act like they're living through the former. For pity's sake, Tom's wife never even mentions or refers to the guy in prison and it's beyond belief that Tom hasn't shared his suspicions with her.
And then there's the connection between the two killings. Yes, the same person did both. What's wrong is that you could have taken any of the characters from 1958, made them the killer and it would have made as much sense as who actually did it. There's no rhyme, reason or logic to why that character did it instead of someone else and there's no justification, explanation or rationale for why that character being the killer is significant or meaningful. When the moment of revelation comes, the folks who made Stolen treat it like a mindblowing event. All it truly merits, though, is a shrug of the shoulders and a "So what?"
Despite those two things, I'd still recommend people watch this film, which should say all that needs to be said about how well done everything else is in Stolen. I can't help but think, though, about how much better that different movie would have been.
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