The Stolen, 2017.
Directed by Niall Johnson.
Starring Alice Eve, Jack Davenport, Richard O’Brien, Graham McTavish, and Stan Walker.
Recently married émigré, Charlotte, is settling in at her new home in New Zealand. Her happiness seems complete when she gives birth to a son but, when he’s just months old, her home is raided, her husband murdered and the infant is kidnapped. A stranger in a foreign land, Charlotte goes in search of her baby, determined to find him whatever she has to do.
After making us reach for our tissues with Mum’s List last year, director Niall Johnson has ventured down under for The Stolen, an antipodean western about another mother with another mission. He’s taken a wrong turn.
On the face of it, it’s an idea with a certain potential. The spirited Charlotte (Alice Eve) is getting used to a different way of life in rural New Zealand, thousands of miles away from her home in Oxford. She’s spirited and hardly turns a hair at the idea of learning to shoot. It’s a skill she puts to good use when her husband is murdered and her baby son kidnapped. The local police search for the boy for three months, then advise “it’s time to move on” but they were never interested in finding him from the start. So Charlotte decides to take matters into her own hands and tracks him down to a township beyond the mountains.
Up until then, you’re prepared to go along with the idea, but once she gets to the township it’s downhill all the way. You know as soon as saloon proprietor Russell (Richard O’Brien) opens his mouth to reveal a ludicrous accent that it’s only going to get worse. And it does. The storyline, such as it is, completely unravels with the arrival of Jack Davenport: his character’s involvement with Charlotte makes no sense whatsoever, his accent is even more unconvincing than O’Brien’s and his waxed coat sports decidedly 21st century fastenings. Tut, tut.
For a western, The Stolen looks remarkably and unconvincingly clean. Apart from the occasional muddy puddle in the township, there’s very little sign of dirt, even on the gold miners who you would expect to show some evidence of their labour. It looks like a squeaky clean TV series from the 90s – Dr Quinn Down Under, perhaps? – complete with a feisty woman at the centre of the action. But there result is flat, meandering and deeply dull with characters that are mere sketches rather than being fully formed, so that the actors have little or nothing to work with.
Somewhere inside this shambolic mess is a decent idea for a film. It’s set in an attractive landscape, which momentarily lifts the movie out of the doldrums, but the plot is close to silly and the direction flabby. Back to the drawing board.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.