Awash in a dusty brown sheen, Stolen attempts to construct a historically layered timeline of trauma within the realm of the detective genre. It crosses time periods and personas, unearthing the buried secrets of small-town life by placing significance on artifacts of innocence and guilt. The thematic and emotional devastation stems from the universal suffering of parents marked by the disappearance of a child, a loss transcending the passage of time and effecting generations into the future. But despite these ambitious goals, the film quickly turns into a thriller that doesn't thrill, a mystery completely devoid of mystery. And these failures are absolute and unflinching, infecting every corner of the production and narrative in the process.
Stolen follows Det. John Adkins (Jon Hamm) in 2008 as he investigates the possible connection between the body of a long-deceased child and his own son's kidnapping a decade prior. Flashing back between 1958 and the present, Stolen links the plight of the psychologically tortured Adkins with the desperate father of the original boy, an honest carpenter named Matthew (Josh Lucas). John's sloppy and cluttered investigation gets juxtaposed with Matthew's difficult time raising his mentally handicapped son after his wife's suicide. Even though the men couldn't be more ideologically different (John has no religious affiliation while Matthew is devoutly Christian), both represent the flipsides of the same parental coin, just at diverging points in the grieving process. One patriarch's search for the truth seamlessly opens up the tragic sacrifice of another, and the personal details matter very little. The filmmakers don't give either man much depth, instead situating them as symbolic victims intrinsically tied together by fate.
As a genre film, Stolen fails to illicit any tangible surprise, suspense, or secrecy. First-time director Anders Anderson never establishes a telling stylistic pattern, yet gives each scene a strange yellow hue that looks like a suffocating smog lingering across the frame. The direction is consistently uninspired, as actors move aimlessly through scenes without any purpose or nuance. The monotonous script never utilizes the lead's talent or dynamism, pitting characters in discernible situations that show exactly what's being said. The most dramatic scenes come across as especially inert, drowning out tension with spot-on dialogue and symbolism. Every core emotion resides on the surface, and the film shoves these familiar reactions down the viewer's throat.
Ultimately, Stolen becomes a surface-level, made-for-television-style melodrama grasping at iconic genre straws, hoping the viewer will be lazy enough to believe its simplistic moral posturing and trite vision of history. The nicely wrapped bow of an ending provides a particularly hollow parting gift.
Entirely drenched in a yellow haze, the daytime images are plagued by monochromatic warm colors. It's as if both past and present are being consumed by the same desaturated vision, and the transfer becomes completely muted in one vast hue. The night scenes get obscured, as high black levels make the actions sometimes difficult to visualize. The audio is consistently balanced throughout, as dialogue sequences and audio cues often meld easily together.
Only a single theatrical trailer and a one-note, self-congratulatory behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews from key cast members shedding little reasoning behind their involvement in this stinker.
Presented in a barebones, uninspired package, Stolen takes an interesting premise and turns it into an unforgivably predictable and flimsy genre hybrid, something gravely akin to a bad episode of Cold Case.