A wild tale that earns its stranger than fiction bonafides
Ursula Macfarlane’s The Lost Sons charts one man’s journey to answer the simple question, “who am I?” For most people it’s an exercise in self-reflection. For Paul Joseph Fronczak, that question is a literal mystery disguised as a family tree enigma wrapped in a true crime riddle. Paul’s story is the kind that is so unbelievable that it could only happen in real life and can only really be presented as a true crime documentary. On the surface, the twists and turns of Paul’s story are more than enough to power Macfarlane’s film. It’s the emotional turmoil underneath the byzantine narrative that gives The Lost Sons its heart.
Back in the mid-1970s, 10 year old Paul crept into the crawlspace of his family’s home to sneak an early peek at Christmas presents. What he unwrapped instead was old newspaper clippings about a baby kidnapped in Chicago in 1964 and returned to his parents two years later. His parents refused to discuss the matter so Paul went on with his life, with this question lingering in the back of his mind. He moved around the country a bit, played in a band, and spent some time working in movies. Most notably he was a stand in for George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven and Mickey Rourke in Domino. As it always does, curiosity eventually got the best of Paul and he started down the rabbit hole of his own kidnapping. There are numerous DNA tests, long lost family members, multiple people who disappeared or were kidnapped at a young age.
The Lost Sons comes from the same production companies that released Three Identical Strangers, another documentary that deals with people digging into their past with mortifying results. The Lost Sons delivers a similarly captivating viewing experience, along with the sense of moral dubiousness that comes standard issue with true crime stories. Paul’s search necessitates exposing long-buried secrets and casting a light on people who have spent their lives in the shadows, either by choice or being unaware of what they’re caught up in. There’s a sadness that looms over The Lost Sons. It’s hard to shake. For every step that brings Paul closer to the truth, it raises new questions and upends more lives.
Macfarlane mixes reenactments, some with actors and others with the real life players, with the usual talking head segments. It’s an understandable choice, something that keeps the film from being visually static, but that dressing is unnecessary as the narrative is more than enough to hold the audience’s attention. Paul is a charismatic guy, and he holds the camera and dictates the story with the confidence of someone holding court around a campfire.
Like the best true crime docs, The Lost Sons is engaging throughout and delivers enough WTF moments that you’ll want to run out and tell someone all about it immediately. Paul’s story is worth hearing for its visceral pleasures, but it’s the overwhelming sense of sadness that stands out above all else.