vt Stolen Lives
US / 91 minutes / color / A2, Code, Arclight, IFC Dir: Anders Anderson Pr: Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso, Anders Anderson, Andy Steinman Scr: Glenn Taranto Cine: Andy Steinman Cast: Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, Rhona Mitra, James Van Der Beek, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Cassidy, Jimmy Bennett, Morena Baccarin, Michael Cudlitz, Andy Milder, Holt McCallany, Marcus Thomas, Ty Panitz, Kali Rocha, Beth Grant.
Eight years ago, while cop Tom Adkins (Hamm) briefly visited the restroom, his 10-year-old son Tommy Jr (Panitz) disappeared from the diner where they’d been eating, never to be seen again; he’s convinced Tommy Jr was murdered by a man called Bert Rogianni, who has recently been sentenced for two other child abductions/murders but staunchly denies having killed Tom’s son.
Tommy Jr’s room is kept just as he left it.
When a call comes that the skeleton of a child has been discovered buried in a box at a construction site, Tom and his wife Barbara (Mitra) assume that at last Tommy Jr has been found. But the forensics people announce that the remains are more like fifty years old than eight and that the dead child suffered from some kind of brain damage. Desperately seeking redemption for what he regards as his own failing in the loss of Tommy, Tom sets out to solve this very cold case.
In parallel with the story of the Adkinses, we’re told of Matthew Wakefield (Lucas) who in 1958, after the suicide of his wife, leaves his two elder sons in the care of her sister Cora (Rocha) and Cora’s husband Jonas (Cudlitz) while he goes in search of work and security with youngest son John (Bennett)—whom the self-righteous Cora and Jonas won’t look after because he’s “a retard”.
Jimmy Bennett turns in a great performance as John.
Matthew finds work on a construction site, where he’s befriended by fellow-laborers The Swede (McCallany) and Diploma (Van Der Beek); all the laborers are known by nicknames rather than their real ones, Matthew becoming Christian. One night, when Matthew and Diploma are out at a bar with John in tow, Matthew allows himself to be seduced by Rose Montgomery (Baccarin), the free-spirited wife of a local gas-station owner. As Matthew and Rose make raucous whoopee up against the rear wall of the bar, John vanishes from the back of the car where Matthew left him sleeping . . .
Matthew’s good buddy Diploma (James Van Der Beek).
Matthew’s first sight of the temptress Rose Montgomery (Morena Baccarin).
Fifty years on, few of the relevant witnesses to the 1958 disappearance survive. Once Tom has with reasonable certainty identified the “boy in the box” as young John Wakefield, however, Matthew’s cousin Edvena (Grant) and second wife Sally Ann (Chastain) recall the sweet young boy they never saw again, and a fading photo that Sally Ann has of Matthew with his work buddies helps Tom solve both the old murder case and the murder of his own son.
Hamm and Lucas are both more than competent in the two central roles, but the real thespian joys come from some of the supporting cast, most especially Bennett as the mentally impaired child. Mitra (as Tom’s wife), Baccarin (as the exceptionally alluring tramp) and Van Der Beek (as Diploma, young and old) are also very fine. The transitions between the two time periods are well handled, especially visually, so that—despite what could have been a problematic similarity of affect between the two principals—we’re never in any danger of confusion between the two parallel stories. Overall, this is a very intelligent movie, never sacrificing its integrity for cheap sensation and gaining considerably through this restraint; for example, the fact that we see nothing of the murders makes those crimes all the more chilling, because we begin to share the emotions of the grieving parents, their resignation and their desperate hopes.
Barbara (Rhona Mitra) and Tom (Jon Hamm), reconciled at last to their son’s death.
Stolen was widely panned by the critics on release; an exception was Rex Reed of the New York Observer, whose opinion roughly reflected my own: “Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but technically polished, with inspired performances and enough suspense that . . . I was so wired I needed a Valium.” In an unusual example of a complete disparity of reception, later critics—on blogs and forums—have tended to rate it quite highly. It’s feasible that the movie was completely re-edited and recut for DVD release, but I’ve found no evidence that this was the case. Perhaps the professional critics expected gunfights and car chases and were disappointed to find themselves confronted by an almost literary piece.
On Amazon.com: Stolen.