Studio: MPI Home Video
Film Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 25GB
Theatrical Release Date: May 16, 2009 (Cannes); Mar. 12, 2010 (U.S. limited)
Blu-ray Release Date: June 29, 2010
Stolen is one of the “little” movies released by IFC Films in a few theaters but mostly through video on demand. It does, however, feature a cast of familiar faces, which is probably why it’s receiving the distinction of a Blu-ray release from MPI Media Group, which handles IFC’s video distribution. Unfortunately, despite the considerable array of acting talent and an intriguing premise, Stolen never realizes its potential.
Stolen unfolds in two time periods, 2008 and 1958. In 2008, Det. Tom Adkins, Sr. (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), a small town cop, moves through his daily routine like a ghost. Adkins has never recovered from the loss of his son, Tommy, who was snatched from a diner on the Fourth of July in 2000, while Adkins was briefly in the men’s room. The grief and guilt weighing on Adkins have driven a wedge between him and his wife, Barbara (Rhona Mitra), despite the efforts of Tom’s no-nonsense mother (Joanna Cassidy) to persuade him to move on. Among other things, Adkins is obsessed with a convicted killer named Roggiani, who he is convinced abducted and killed Tommy, even though Roggiani denied doing so while freely confessing to other capital crimes.
The Adkins family is rattled when construction workers demolishing an old building discover a buried box containing the remains of a child of similar size and age to Tommy. But the coroner determines that the body dates from an earlier era. Against the advice of friends and colleagues, Adkins begins an intensive investigation into a case that is so “cold” it seems almost impossible to close.
In 1958, Matthew Wakefield (Josh Lucas) has fallen on hard times. After losing his farm in foreclosure, the only work he can find is on a construction site run by Bill Byrnes (Ryan Cutrona, Betty Draper’s father on Mad Men). The site is an informal place where workers come and go, and everyone is known by nicknames. The foreman (Holt McCallany) is called “Swede”; Wakefield is dubbed “Christian”; and the co-worker who befriends him is called “Diploma” (James Van Der Beek), because he went to college. Wakefield also has a son in tow named John (Jimmy Bennett), and he can’t leave him on his own, because John is what people call, in politically incorrect 1958, a “retard”.
One night, Wakefield puts John to sleep in the back of his car while he’s having a quick drink with Diploma at the local bar. He ends up taking longer than he intended, because he’s distracted by the charms of Rose Montgomery (Morena Baccarin of Firefly and V), the very friendly wife of a local (and very jealous) gas station owner. When Wakefield returns to his car, John has disappeared.
Wakefield searches frantically, but, except for Diploma, no one helps him. The people at the building site don’t want to get involved, and the local police chief (Jude Ciccolella, Pres. Palmer’s chief of staff on 24) treats construction workers passing through as little better than vagrants. The only sympathetic ear is Sally Ann (Jessica Chastain), a waitress at the local diner – the same diner where Tommy Adkins will disappear forty-two years later.
A lot more happens beyond what’s described above, and I’ve left out numerous details, because I don’t want to spoil what pleasures the film has to offer for anyone who decides to watch it. (Print reviews during the theatrical release were less considerate.) The detective story is intriguing, and first-time director Anders Anderson manages the transitions between the two eras with technical grace, so that Adkins’ investigation in the present and Wakefield’s search in the past eventually coalesce into a narrative resolution. But that’s all there is, and it isn’t enough. If one sets out to tell overlapping stories, by the end the audience should feel that there is a reason for doing so – and not just because both stories involve cases of missing children and parental anguish. Especially with material of such a sensitive nature, the stories need to be intertwined in such a way that they deepen each other, resonate with each other, illuminate the emotional terrain and provide some sort of catharsis for both the characters and the audience. This was clearly the intent of Glenn Taranto’s script, but the final results fall short.
I can’t fault the actors, who generally do a creditable job (although Rhona Mitra isn’t able to overcome the limitations of an underwritten role). Film is a director’s medium, and Anderson hasn’t yet developed a cinematic vocabulary adequate to portray the extremity of feeling that a story like Stolen requires.
The image on the Stolen Blu-ray is one of the more problematic I’ve seen in a some time. The image is detailed, the black levels seem appropriate, and the somewhat washed-out color scheme appears to be consistent with the film’s overall design (and certainly aids in the transitions between the two eras). But throughout much of the film, and distractingly so in some shots, there is video noise that is clearly digital and has nothing to do with film grain. Since the project was originated on film, this cannot be the fault of the source material.
The credits indicate that Stolen passed through a digital intermediate, and I suppose it is possible that noise was introduced at that stage. (I presume that there’s a “B” list of less qualified personnel at DI facilities, just as there is everywhere else.) Alternatively, the compressionist responsible for this disc may have been less than adept. Either way, the result on the Blu-ray is below the standards we have come to expect. Although I would certainly not pronounce it unwatchable, it is disappointing.
The DTS lossless track is adequate but unremarkable. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, and the orchesteral score by Trevor Morris (whose credits include Showtime’s The Tudors and the short-lived vampire series Moonlight) has a nice presence. The surrounds are used sparingly, though they’re effective when used (e.g., in an early scene when Adkins races through a crowded amusement park looking for Tommy). There is also a PCM 2.0 track, which I didn’t sample.
Behind the Scenes (HD) (12:02). This short featurette contains interviews with Lucas, Van Der Beek, Hamm, Baccarin and young Jimmy Bennett. While the actors are serious and committed, they don’t add any new insights. Their comments contains numerous spoilers, and this feature should not be viewed before watching the film.
Trailers. The film’s trailer is available as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays the following trailers, all of them in standard definition: The Good the Bad the Weird (2:35:1; 16:9-enhanced); Life in Flight (1:85:1; non-enhanced); Uncertainty (2:35:1; enhanced); Five Minutes of Heaven (1:85:1; enhanced); and Swedish Auto (1:85:1; non-enhanced). These can be skipped with the chapter forward button.
I’ve never been one to complain that a film wasted two hours of my life, and I especially hate it when professional critics do so (it’s your damn job, guys). Even a film that doesn’t work can be interesting, if you try to figure out what went wrong and why. To paraphrase the famous last words of Edmund Kean: Dissing is easy; colloquy is hard.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub
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