Hamm, No Cheese

hamm 3 Hamm, No CheeseSTOLEN
Running time 97 minutes
Written by GLENN TARANTO
Directed by ANDERS ANDERSON
Starring JON HAMM, JOSH LUCAS, ROHNA MITRA, JAMES VAN DER BEEK

2 Eyeballs out of 4

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As inevitable as one season following another, it was preordained that Jon Hamm would become a movie star. The centrifugal force on TV’s habit-forming smash series Mad Men has everything it takes-talent, strength, looks that ought to be illegal and the testosterone level of Gary Cooper. The big screen lies lustily waiting. If the quiet, suspenseful thriller Stolen does not exactly send marquees blazing, it’s still a respectable bid for big-screen attention in which Jon Hamm’s little-screen charisma never falters.

The star plays Tom Adkins, a grieving detective obsessed by the unsolved disappearance of his son eight years earlier. Even when his wife grows disillusioned enough to give up and move on, Tom works on the case night and day and Sundays, too, meticulously following every lead and sifting through each clue. One day, the body of another child is excavated from a construction site dating back 50 years; the discovery reveals clues to Tom’s own case that intrigue him even further. What develops is two parallel murder mysteries involving two tortured fathers of boys who vanished in similar ways, told in two different time periods-the 1950s and today-and linked by one suspect. The father from the earlier case (played by the equally mesmerizing Josh Lucas) has been dead for years, making the odds against solving it almost insurmountable. But Tom’s persistence pays off in unexpected ways, even though it rends his own marriage to shreds. Mr. Lucas plays Matthew Wakefield, a father of three sons whose wife committed suicide, leaving him with no choice but to board them with relatives, who would not take the youngest boy, a trusting kid with mental challenges. Interviewing Wakefield’s widow and only surviving son, Tom delves into their story, digging up forensic evidence that links both dead children with a seedy hard hat who has been convicted of kidnapping and is serving a long sentence on death row (played against type with surprising and terrifying conviction by a ravaged James Van Der Beek).

Although Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm have no scenes together, they work in tandem. In a spiritual sense, Mr. Lucas reaches out from the grave to join forces with Mr. Hamm to track down the killer of their sons, providing 97 minutes of maximum jitters. If the first-time direction by Anders Anderson and the perfunctory script by Glenn Taranto don’t always ignite, I admire their refusal to underestimate their audience’s intelligence or give away anything more, at any given moment, than the characters discover themselves. This turns the viewer into a sleuth along with Mr. Hamm, turning up clues like a silent partner on the case. Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but technically polished, with inspired performances and enough suspense that by the time Mr. Hamm found the redemption that freed him from his own demons, I was so wired I needed a Valium.