SLIFF 2009 Review: STOLEN LIVES - We Are Movie Geeks

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stolen lives

Don’t let the overly qualified cast list fool you.  STOLEN LIVES is about eight commercial breaks short of being a movie of the week, not one, but two kidnapped child tales that intersect in highly sporadic and, overall, loose-fitting ways.  It feels like it’s moving fast, but it plods and plods until all the loose ends seem to magically tie themselves off and then, simply, end.

Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas star as two fathers in completely different eras.  Hamm plays a cop in the present day who is obsessed with his missing son.  He, along with his wife, played by Rhona Mitra, is the first on the scene when news hits him that a child’s body has been found buried underneath a construction site.  Upon taking the skeletal remains to a pathologist, he learns the child is not his son but, rather, that of a child who was murdered some 50 years before.  Cue the flashback score, as we jump back to Lucas’ character’s story.  He plays a newly single father in the 1950s who is trying to find work while caring for his mentally handicapped son.

Sadly, STOLEN LIVES seems to only have enough juice in either its story or its direction to cover one of these stories thoroughly and well.  The story covers the modern day narrative well, while the direction by Anders Anderson seems to have its head in the clouds of the ’50s.  Nothing comes together skillfully in the film, and the jumps back and forth add jarring to the list of this films characteristics.

At just 90 minutes, the pacing is all wrong.  There are moments where we are finally beginning to see a semblance of attention and focus on any, one aspect only to be quickly rushed back to the other storyline for no, clear reason.  STOLEN LIVES, perhaps, could have benefited from a little breathing room, some padding in each, respective story to not only flesh out some of the side characters these two fathers are contending with but to give us, the audience, a bit of time to sort out the stories in our own heads.

Not to say the film is convoluted.  Far from it.  If anything, it’s too simple, and it begins to feel like we are shown rather than told the segment from the ’50s just to keep this from being a short.  We know where the film is headed long before it gets there.  Any sense of surprise or thoughts of a genuine twist are quickly lost.  As if working against an already set run time, the film rushes through its ending revelations like a third grader trying to get through the last, few paragraphs of that week’s chapter.  It doesn’t hold on anything, blazes through even the most rudimentary of details, and, ultimately, leaves us far behind.  At this point, we don’t even care if we keep up.

The one element STOLEN LIVES has going for it in spades is in the performance of its cast.  Hamm and Lucas are, each, terrific in what they are given.  Mitra sits on the sidelines, but she even does that skillfully.  Even James Van Der Beek shows up to prove he can still hold his own.

Lost in the woods of its own devising, STOLEN LIVES tells two uninteresting stories in particularly uninteresting ways.  Anderson’s camera work is satisfactory, and the acting chops provide the only meat on this film’s bones.  Unfortunately, there is just far too much working against it.  In the end, the film amounts to very little, a forgettable gust of wind that believes itself to be a cyclone.  It talks big, but, aside from the acting, it doesn’t live up to its own hype.

STOLEN LIVES will screen at Plaza Frontenac on Saturday, November 14th at 7:15pm and on Sunday, November 15th at 7:00pm during the 18th Annual Whitaker Saint Louis International Film Festival.

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