Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lucas & Hamm star in Anders Anderson's moving missing-child movie, STOLEN

Threat and danger hover over STOLEN like a curse. Then the deaths start piling up: one, two... The third takes longer to appear, which makes waiting for it all the more difficult to endure (not to worry: there is practically no blood or gore here). Anders Anderson's sorrowful and moving film about parental responsibility, love, sexual need, grief and guilt travels back and forth in time to tell a tale of loss and odd connections that dispenses with much of the "thriller" aspects that might have given it more standard pizzazz and chills -- probably at the expense of the deeper-than-usual feelings that surface from time to time.

Directed by Anderson (shown at left, whose first film this is) and written by Glenn Taranto, Stolen is a quieter movie than most in this genre, and fortunately it has two leading men who can handle the emotional aspects well. Jon Hamm plays the small-town policeman in the present-day plot, and it's good to see this actor in something other than Mad Men (or the uselessly standard role he had in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still). Even better is Josh Lucas, who has been proving his mettle over the past decade in film after interesting film: The Deep End to Undertow, Poseidon to Death in Love.

Lucas (above) has by far the most layered role, and as usual, he gives it his all, making us feel his loss and guilt, his need for both sex and religion, and his insistence on doing what he imagines is the right thing. Hamm (below) is saddled with the lesser role, in which his grief and guilt overshadow all else, and this does begin to grow tiresome, which is less the actor's fault that that of the director and writer.

Yet the graceful weaving of past and present, with its occasional surprise (not the villain's identity, which is given away midstream) plus the romantic interludes provided by several women (who later appear as their older selves) make this story memorable in unex-
pected ways, leaving the viewer freighted with a deeper under-
standing and appreciation of all that has transpired than is usually achieved in films about kidnapping and murder. (In fact, Stolen manages this better than does a much higher-profile movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, about which I'll have more to say soon.)

Also in the cast is James Van Der Beek (at right, above, whose very square head and sturdy body is put to good use in the past portion and made to age relatively well for the present-day) and Jessica Chastain, Rhona Mitra and Morena Baccarin (the latter shown below) as some of the women in the lives of these two men.

Stolen (formerly known as Stolen Lives), from IFC FIlms, opens Friday, March 12, at the Clearview Chelsea in New York City and at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in L.A. on March 19.  Already available from IFC On-Demand, you can click the previous link to learn if your TV-reception-provider offers it, and if so, how to get it.


Ricardo said...

Yours is virtually the only positive review of this film I came upon. It motivated me to see this movie because the premise sounded intriguing. Unfortunately, the execution does not to it justice. The cartoonish villain, in particular, turns the movie into silly melodrama. Also, Hamm and Lucas are way too similar as types (Caucasian, black hair, handsome), so what is meant to be inter-historical compassion winds up coming off as narcissism.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Ricardo. Hard to believe that mine is the ONLY positive review of this film? Whew! Well, I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

The villain here is certainly no more cartoonish than the one in the much-praised No Country for Old Men. Much less so, in fact (but the actor who plays him does not possess Javier Bardem's range and smarts. As to Hamm and Lucas being too similar -- no way. You would never mistake one for the other. Their facial features could not be more different, despite their being Caucasian, handsome and sporting dark hair.

I agree that the execution could be better (this was the filmmaker's first outing, I believe), but it's really not bad at all, considering.

Ricardo said...

It would have been more moving to make the earlier father black or Latino. The bad guy stuff should have stressed the banality of evil.

James van Maanen said...

True -- they could have done that. But white filmmakers often don't think about making their stories more racially inclusive. This is slowly changing, fortunately.

As to the banality of evil: Speaking of cartoons and cliches, that one is getting a little too well-worn. If Hannah Arendt could only see how her words have been tossed around, she might have thought twice about using that phrase.