Stolen (2009)

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.

Stolen 2009 6 - aged childkiller Bert Rogianni

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.

Stolen 2009 1 - Tommy Jr's room, kept as he left it

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”.

Stolen 2009 3 - Bennett turns in a great performance as John

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 . . .

Stolen 2009 4 - Matthew's good buddy Diploma

Matthew’s good buddy Diploma (James Van Der Beek).

Stolen 2009 2 - Matthew's first encounter wityh the sultry Rose

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.

Stolen 2009 5 - Barbara and Tom, reconciled at last to their son's death

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 Stolen.

13 thoughts on “Stolen (2009)

    • I hope you enjoy it! (User chews fingernails nervously in case you agree with those early critics . . .) I’m still puzzled by the initial adverse reaction, as it seems to me one of those movies that has sufficient obvious good qualities (performances, cinematography, etc., etc.) that even someone who didn’t like it for some reason would still find plenty else to admire.

      One possibility, I suppose, is that it could simply be a movie that works great on the small screen but less well on the big one. That didn’t occur to me at the time I was watching it (on the small screen, obviously), and my viewing was long enough ago that I now can’t sensibly evaluate the merit of the hypothesis!

                • Aside from the joy of teasing Sam, I can quite understand why some might actively dislike The Counselor: it’s a very in-your-face movie that demands a reaction, and obviously for some viewers that reaction is going to be dislike. There aren’t going to be that many take-it-or-leave-it reactions (sort of like punk rock!). In fact this quality — this vigour, if you like — was one of those that contributed to my valuing the movie fairly highly.

                  Stolen is a very different kettle of fish. I can imagine people coming to it expect a humdinger of a thriller finding themselves disappointed (wot? no cars catching fire?), but it’s a production of sufficient quality and, I’d say, integrity that even those viewers would find a lot to enjoy in simply looking at the thing.

                  Is what I think, anyway.

  1. hahahaha!! Enjoyed my moment in the sun here!!! Well, I’ll admitted THE COUNSELOR didn’t tickle my fancy, but I know it had fans. I stayed clear of STOLEN much for the same reason Jacqui did -bad reviews- but as always John, you vividly show both sides of the coin.

    • As I say above, I’m really surprised it incurred such lukewarm reviews. I’ll be posting my notes on Saturday about Stolen (2012), where I can quite understand the poor reviews even if Pam and I enjoyed the piece: the movie’s merry garbage, so your enjoyment of it depends on whether you like or are pissed off by “good garbage”. (As example, National Treasure [2004], which also stars Cage, is the most frightful garbage . . . but superbly executed fun if you’re in the right mood!) The 2009 Stolen, by contrast, is one of those movies that it seems reasonable to admire but not like, or just to like; other reactions seem perverse.

      By way of literary analogy, I’ve known lots of people who think that The Mill on the Floss is good or very good and a few who think it’s a masterpiece, or not far short. (I myself fall into the “not far short” category; I prefer it to, say, Wuthering Heights!) But I’d look askance at anyone who thought it was a stinker. Likewise here,:while I can understand people not enjoying the movie as much as I (in fact Pam and I) did, I have difficulty comprehending why anyone could possibly conclude it was poor.

      Talking of Wuthering Heights, I trust you’ve been taking note of Young Kate’s comeback. Last week or the week before she had no fewer than eleven albums in the top 50. I’m not a huge fan of her music — although I think her Lionheart is one of the all-time great albums — but I’m delighted she should be having this later-life success. She never gave up on what she thought was the Way To Go.

  2. John, I enjoyed this great response in every sense. THE MILL AND THE FLOSS is quite good to these eyes, and yes I am following Kate—LIONHEART is a masterpiece of an album as far as I’m concerned. She did indeed have so many albums in the Top 50—so wonderful for music lovers she is invigorated!!! 🙂

    • She did indeed have so many albums in the Top 50

      Yes, over the years she did (although Pam, oddly enough, has barely heard of her!). But the remarkable thing recently was that, the week before this last one, she had 11 in the UK Top 50 — including vintage items like <Lionheart and The Kick Inside. I’ve no idea if a similar situation pertained this past week.

      I used to work with a guy who’d been a pal of her big brother. The kid sister would play her songs and tell them she was going to be a rock star. The boys rolled their eyes . . .

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