Cinema Review: The Lost Sons [SXSW 2021] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Lost Sons [SXSW 2021]

Studio: CNN Films
Directed by Ursula Macfarlane

Mar 19, 2021 Web Exclusive
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The Lost Sons is a documentary that is also a heartbreaking account of an investigation on a lost infant.

In 1964, a woman stole a baby named Paul right from a Chicago hospital. The topic hit national front pages instantly, and a massive police investigation and community effort were undertaken to locate the baby. Sadly, any notable leads were nonexistent, and it seemed like the case was cold just months after it commenced. Fifteen months later in Newark, New Jersey, a baby is taken to a police precinct after being left outside, with no parents or caretakers in sight.

The FBI pieced the two cases together and brought Paul’s parents to the baby, where they recognized their lost son. The case quickly faded out of the national consciousness. Paul had a normal childhood, oblivious to the events that had rocked the beginning of his life. When, searching for Christmas presents at 10 years old, however, he stumbles upon clippings of newspaper articles with his name mentioned as a kidnapped baby and things begin to change.

From here, The Lost Sons explores Paul’s life as he discovers more and more about himself, which leads to unexpected findings, including another stolen baby–hence, “the lost sons”–and family members he has unearthed outside of his parents. As Paul pieces his life together, and realizes he is not certain of his actual identity, an emotional roller coaster marked by countless changes in direction, the viewer is taken along for the turbulent ride.

The Lost Sons is the perfect example of a documentary with a story almost too unbelievable to be true. The film is filled with twist after twist, constantly subverting viewers’ expectations and as a result, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats for a majority of the film’s runtime. Moreover, the film is exceptional at concealing the twists, so they do happen, it feels like they have come completely out of the blue. While this seems like a fairly obvious tactic, not many films are able to deliver a series of 180-degree turns as effectively and consistently as The Lost Sons.

The Lost Sons is a slow-burning documentary. In just under 100 minutes, the film explores almost every single aspect of Paul’s life, even things that may seem insignificant in the context of the story. This move is successful because it gives a complete picture of the film’s subject. This allows viewers to understand the complex and confused emotions the character is going through, especially when his life and identity unravel time after time. Even so, The Lost Sons includes so much interview footage–almost everyone mentioned in the documentary has an interview on-screen as well–that the film feels authentic, most notably during the interviews directly between Paul and the people in his life.

Still, by including everything, the film can also feel draining and prolonged. This is not only because of the incredibly harrowing storyline, but also because there is just so much to digest in one sitting. At the same time, the documentary is a powerful reflection on trauma and human nature.

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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