Stolen (IFC Films, R)

Stolen is a decent attempt by a first-time writer and first-time director pairing.

Watching Stolen, from first-time director Anders Anderson, is a little like watching an elongated episode of the CBS crime procedural Cold Case where crimes are solved while the story jumps from the present to the past and back again. Actually, saying the film is similar to the television show is putting it mildly. Stolen is exactly like watching an episode of Cold Case.

The film begins in present day with Detective Tom Adkins (Jon Hamm) who is called to investigate the discovery of the remains of a young boy who was murdered 50 years ago. For Adkins, the crime is especially disturbing as the boy is roughly the same age as his son who went missing eight years ago. Since his son’s disappearance, Adkins has thrown himself into his work and tried desperately to find out what happened to his son. This, not surprisingly, has taken a terrible toll on his relationship with his wife, Barbara (Rhona Mitra), who is on the verge of leaving him.

As Adkins is investigating the crime, the story moves back to 1958 where we meet Matthew Wakefield (Josh Lucas) whose son, John (Jimmy Bennett), is the boy who will be murdered. Matthew is a poor man whose wife has just committed suicide leaving him to care for his three sons alone. When they are forced out of their home, Matthew leaves two of his sons with family and takes John with him to find work. Matthew finds a job working construction and makes friends with a well-educated man nicknamed Diploma (James Van Der Beek).

Adkins discovers that the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his son and John are very similar; too similar to be a coincidence. Immediately, Adkins suspects the man who is already in prison for his son’s kidnapping who could be released soon due to lack of evidence. Adkins begins working furiously to find out what happened before he is released from prison.

Anderson and screenwriter Glenn Taranto do deserve praise for creating a mildly entertaining, if unoriginal, film. It is kind of like when a child draws a picture that isn’t wonderful, but his parents still put it on the refrigerator because they’re proud of him. The film uses nonlinear storytelling in an attempt to throw off the viewer’s assumptions about what is going to happen. In reality, however, this only serves to highlight the clues that give away the ending which is supposed to be a surprise but is actually a giant letdown when it happens.

Not everything is bad in the film, though. Anderson does do a rather impressive job of differentiating the two time periods through starkly different colors and tone. The present day events are filmed in a crisp and defined style that almost looks like it was shot in HD. When we jump back to 1958, the color is stripped away and we are left with images that are nearly sepia-toned which heighten the washed out feeling Matthew is experiencing.

Hamm does a decent job as a man destroyed by guilt over his son’s disappearance. He claims to want closure, but has become obsessed with finding the answer. The real disappointment of the film is Lucas, who usually turns in a solid performance in each role. In this film, however, he is floundering in his character, not knowing how far to push his performance. Scenes that should be heart-wrenching feel flat and unimpressive as Lucas struggles to emote in any way convincing.

Stolen is a decent attempt by a first-time writer and first-time director pairing. Both show promise of being able to produce more engaging work in a few years, but for now they seem better suited for television work and not feature films. | Matthew F. Newlin

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