(2009) Mystery (IFC) Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, James Van Der Beek, Jimmy Bennett, Jessica Chastain, Rhona Mitra, Joanna Cassidy, Morena Baccarin, Michael Cudlitz, Andy Milder, Holt McCallany, Jude Ciccolella. Directed by Anders Anderson
For many of us, our children are our lives. When our children are taken away or disappear, our lives are not just disrupted. They are destroyed.
Detective Tom Adkins (Hamm) is a smart cop with a broken heart. Eight years prior, his son Tommy Jr. disappeared while in his care and hasn’t been seen since. The relationship between Tom and his wife (Mitra) is strained to say the least. Tom has never given up on his son, even though an arrest has been made for his disappearance – a body has never been found.
When a boy’s body is found in a box, at first the fear is that it is Tommy Jr., but forensics reveals that the body has been in that box for over 50 years. It turns out that the boy is John Wakefield (Bennett), the developmentally challenged son of Matthew (Lucas). If it weren’t for bad luck, Matthew Wakefield would have no luck at all.
He’s been out of work for quite awhile and unable to secure a new job. The pressure gets to his wife who kills herself, leaving Matthew with three children to raise. His sister agrees to take two of the children in while Matthew goes off in search of work, but her husband refuses to take in John who can be a handful.
Matthew finally finds work in the construction trade and makes friends with an educated sort, who is nicknamed Diploma (Van Der Beek), but Matthew is regarded with suspicion by the townsfolk and he is just one misstep away from being thrown out of town. When John disappears, he gets virtually no help in finding his boy; instead, he searches for him on his own and with Diploma, along with a friendly barmaid (Baccarin). However, it will be all for naught for his son will wind up being found in his lonely, forgotten grave 50 years after the fact.
50 years later, the discovery of John Wakefield has refueled the obsession of Tom, who believes that the two cases may against all odds be related. The man he suspected in the case, Roggiani, may provide the answers for both cases – but is Tommy Adkins alive or, like John Wakefield, patiently waiting for his remains to be discovered in a box of his own?
There are elements of the standard whodunit here, which hold the movie back from being what it ultimately could be. I like the idea of the two parallel stories; the elements in common hold the film together and help elevate the tension level.
Hamm has been getting a great deal of notice for his work in “Mad Men” and this movie was made just at the cusp of his career surge. He has upcoming roles in such high-profile films as Sucker Punch and Bridesmaids; here he has to combine the intensity of the grieving father with the calm, cool logic of the police detective. He isn’t always successful in merging the two sides of Adkins’ personality, but he does a good enough job that you can see the potential shining through. Hamm has a formidable talent and may well be a major Hollywood star in the very near future.
Lucas, on the other hand, has mostly performed on the big screen (most of the rest of the main cast is known more for their TV work) and carries himself with confidence as well as hot. In many ways, Matthew Wakefield is the emotional center of the movie more than Tom Adkins is and you feel real sympathy for a good man who has, through no fault of his own, fallen upon hard times. You feel for Matthew, who has been beat down his entire life and doesn’t deserve the fate that is thrust upon him.
Van Der Beek has come a long way since “Dawson’s Creek,” but I think the subtleties of the role he needed to play here were a bit too much of a stretch for him at this point in his career. Mitra alone of all the characters here has something more three dimensional to work with and she’s one of those actresses who simply perform admirably every time out without attracting the notice she deserves. This is one of those occasions.
The problem here is that there is little or no excitement. Part of what makes the story so compelling – the parallel story lines of the missing boys fifty years apart – is also the issue here. We know what fate awaits John Wakefield and, to a certain extent, Matthew Wakefield as well. That the story makes Tom and Tommy Adkins’ fates just as predictable detracts from the potential of the film. For me, that’s the real crime because this had plenty of potential.
WHY RENT THIS: Some fine performances from Hamm and Lucas, as well as a compelling story.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Film seems oddly lifeless and flat when it should be suspenseful and exciting.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a very sexy scene and some implied violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jon Hamm’s Tom Adkins character was named for Jess Thomas Adkins, the actor who played Carl the Trashman on “Sesame Street” who was the acting teacher for writer Glenn Taranto.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7,943 on an unreported production budget; the film was a flop.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Drive Angry 3D