Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Changeling (2008)

Movie quotes:
Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan): Mrs. Collins, your son was missing for five months, for at least part of that time in the company of an unidentified drifter. Who knows what such a disturbed individual might have done. He could have had him circumcised. He could have -
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie): - made him shorter?

At a glance:
Clint Eastwood directs this handsome but uneven and overly dramatic period piece about a 1920s single mom whose son goes missing

Our review:
Angelina Jolie’s 2008 Best Actress nomination for her role in Changeling led me to watch it. Normally, I wouldn’t rush to screen a Clint Eastwood film; despite their general good reviews and public reception, I’ve never warmed to one, often finding them overrated. Fortunately for me, Changeling is, in my view, a cut above the rest.

In Los Angeles of 1928, Christine (Angelina Jolie) is a young working woman left on her own to raise her son after her husband deserts her. When her boy disppears, she receives little help in finding him from a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department that is more concerned with being on the take while propping up their public image. This meticulous period piece, based on a true story, has a few long frustrating periods early on, where too much time is spent indulging the inane arguments of the LAPD, but once the events turn more sinister, it becomes engrossing, almost in spite of itself. Sadly, it then loses itself again in a ridiculously emotional movie-style trial, and other forced dramatics that have no relation to reality. (Spoilers follow) For example, there’s no reason for Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) to be trying to convince Christine that Walter is dead, especially since there were no remains found.  And Jason Butler Harner’s overt quirkiness makes his character less scary and more of a humorous distraction. There is also way too much time spent tieing (almost) everything up and making sure we, the audience, get to see everyone bad get punished for their sins. Still, Eastwood (who also wrote the film’s score) can be proud that at his age, instead of declining into Woody Allen territory, he continues to make respectable (and for the most part, non-cringeworthy) films.

Note: The script was written by Babylon 5 creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski.

Silly observation: Christine confirms in the opening scene that women in the 1920s go to bed (and wake up) wearing all of their makeup. Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Eastwood and Jolie take their time trying to draw a realistic and complex character sketch, which runs at odds with the hyped-up surroundings and circumstances."
-Michael Dequina (Mr. Brown's Movies)

"Clint Eastwood is a vital force of nature. Born May 31, 1930, the unflappable 78-year old director is still creating powerful, unique movies. Changeling is remarkable evidence of that."
-Tony Macklin (Fayetteville Free Weekly)

"Changeling fails because, despite its awful subject matter, it isn't very moving. Eastwood is too classical, too restrained a director to get inside his characters; they feel like well-costumed showroom dummies."
-Sukhdev Sandhu (Daily Telegraph)

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