When an infant is robbed from a wealthy couple in their elegant farmhouse in New Zealand, grieving mother Charlotte (Alice Eve) takes it upon herself to venture into the harsh frontier to find her son after she receives a letter informing her that he’s still alive. Although there’s an intriguing mystery to be found within The Stolen, it’s unfortunately unable to fulfil its own ambitious potential.
Usually images of a Wild West full of grizzled frontiersman in a harsh untamed environment are heavily associated with America so it’s refreshing to see this setting brought to life within the historical context of 1882 New Zealand. Director Niall Johnson makes full use of the country’s beautiful landscape with gorgeous cinematography; expansive vistas accompanied by the sounds of swelling strings make for a visual and audial treat. The cinematography on display is consistently excellent throughout but, whilst the music is well composed in its own right, cracks begin to show when the film attempts to depict the darker side of frontier life. At these points, the score becomes overbearing insofar as rendering these moments more melodramatically heavy-handed than harrowing. Often, too, the musical choices don’t feel entirely appropriate as shots of deprived settlements are given an upbeat atmosphere and an uncomfortable confrontation is made all the more awkward with a romantic soundscape.
The biggest misstep of The Stolen, however, is that it never seems sure about what it’s trying to be. At times it is a mystery thriller then it quickly becomes a road trip adventure or a coming-of-age story set within a period drama. There’s simply not enough time dedicated to either of these components for the plot to have a solid focus. One subplot involving a budding friendship between Charlotte and a group of prostitutes is particularly underutilised, with the movie taking a large detour to establish these women but unable to dedicate the necessary time to develop relationships between them. By the climax, these characters do serve a purpose but the feeling that they are no more than a means to an end cannot be shaken.
The Stolen is at its best when it focuses on its mystery element. Rife with intrigue and unexpected twists throughout, the film makes for an entertaining journey into the frontier. It’s a shame that this wasn’t given the focus it deserved.
The Stolen is released in selected cinemas on 3rd November 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Stolen here: