The low-boil mystery-thriller Stolen was once known as The Boy In The Box and then Stolen Lives, but now has a title as nondescript as its contents. Jon Hamm plays a small-town cop still dealing with the loss of his son, who disappeared nearly a decade ago. One day, a local construction crew unearths a makeshift coffin filled with the bones of a child roughly the age Hamm’s son would’ve been when he vanished. When an autopsy shows that the boy in question was mentally handicapped—and has been underground for at least 50 years—Hamm decides to investigate the old crime anyway, in hopes of finding some closure. That decision takes him on a journey of self-discovery that leads right about where the audience would expect.
Veteran character actor Glenn Taranto wrote Stolen, employing a flashback structure that keeps connecting the present to the events of half a century ago. In the parallel story, Josh Lucas plays a widowed father who travels the countryside looking for work, accompanied by his son, the future murder victim. Several potential murderers emerge: Lucas’ co-workers, the jealous husband of a woman he flirts with, and a shadowy figure who meets the boy in town and gives him a toy. Meanwhile, in the present, Hamm asks a sympathetic newspaper editor to keep the old story alive in hopes that someone will come forward, while his wife urges him to let the matter drop and get on with the business of declaring their child dead, so they can have a funeral and get on with their lives.
Stolen is mildly engaging, inasmuch as it poses a riddle and makes the audience wait for the answer, in the classic mystery mode. But first-time feature director Anders Anderson brings nothing to the table in terms of style or modulation. The actors play every scene a degree or two too high, while Anderson keeps the visuals functional to the point of crudeness—and thus tips his hand more than once as to where the story is going. Even the parallels between Hamm and Lucas’ respective obsessive behavior aren’t so much revelatory as inevitable. If the producers wanted to simplify Stolen’s title even more, here’s a suggestion: Movie.