Jon Hamm plays a police detective who just can’t get over his son’s mysterious disappearance. A body is eventually found with a toy his son had on him when he disappeared, but the body is revealed to have been at least 50 years old, and thus cannot be his son. Whilst his marriage to Rhona Mitra starts to suffer, he becomes more and more obsessed with solving not only the murder case but also his own son’s disappearance. He starts to suspect that the two might be connected. In flashbacks we are taken back to 1958 where struggling dad Josh Lucas is finding it hard to keep his family together after his wife’s suicide. He eventually has to hand a couple of the kids over to a relative, but they refuse to take one of the kids, who has a developmental disability (despite appearing to be perfectly fine to me, I might add). From there he takes a construction job and meets a drifter he calls ‘Diploma’ (James Van Der Beek). Jessica Chastain plays a sweet-natured waitress whom Lucas meets, Joanna Cassidy is Hamm’s mother.
Somewhat morose, but entirely gripping 2009 film debut director Anders Anderson and fellow debutant writer Glenn Taranto wasn’t widely released, and got quite mixed reviews. I was compelled from start until finish (even the crusty old-age makeup didn’t bother me much), but I won’t deny that by the end I felt like something was missing. It took me a while but I finally figured it out. The structure of the film is wonky. Based on a true story, the film really tells two stories, that of grieving father and cop Jon Hamm trying to solve his son’s disappearance case, but also a case more than fifty years old. This story is told in flashbacks concerning dad Josh Lucas struggling to make ends meet and provide for his three sons. Both stories are interesting, but the way the film is structured, bits and pieces of each are left out. We get more closure for Hamm than we do Lucas, but whilst we’re focusing on Lucas’ plight, the mid-section of Hamm’s story is left out.
Still, the film is never dull and the performances are all terrific. I’ve never liked Jon Hamm as an actor (I’ve never watched “Mad Men” and don’t particularly wish to), but he’s pretty good here, as is the always solid Josh Lucas in quite a strong and moving performance. Most impressive of all was James Van Der Beek cast against type in an important role. I never knew the guy had it in him to play such a role. For me, it’s the performances that make this much more than just an episode of “Cold Case” or something. They had me invested in the characters and their fates so that it wasn’t just a mechanical whodunit experience.
I really don’t know why so many people have been dismissive of this film (or why I hadn’t even heard of it!), it’s solid stuff for the most part, if a tad disappointing in the end. Look out for it.