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CHANGELING – Clint Eastwood

October 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “Changeling”, tells the story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother attempting to raise a young son in Los Angeles during the late 1920s. She is a good mother, and she actually has a reasonably successful career as a supervisor at a telephone company. One night, she comes home from work, and discovers that her son is missing. She has no idea where he could have gone. She calls the police, who inform her that her son will probably be back home within 24 hours. If not, they’ll look into it. The next day, her son has still not returned.

A long investigation seems to lead nowhere for weeks and weeks, but finally, there is a breakthrough. Five months after the boy’s disappearance, the police claim they have found Christine Collins’ son. Christine is delighted to hear this news, and is equally dismayed when she discovers that the boy is not actually her son. She tries to tell the police this, but they will have none of it. “Children change a lot in five months,” they say. “Just keep him a few days and wait for the shock to wear off.” Collins hesitantly agrees, but comes no closer to being convinced that this boy is her son.

Just to be sure, she checks with her son’s doctor, teacher, and others… all of them confirm that the boy most certainly isn’t her son. This information would prove embarrassing for the police department, so a police captain (Jeffrey Donovan) has Christine locked up in an insane asylum, claiming that she isn’t “of sound mind.” Fortunately, Christine is a strong and intelligent woman determined to do whatever is necessary to prove her innocence and find her real son, and she receives the considerable aid of a local minister (John Malkovich) who is dedicated to exposing corruption with the L.A.P.D.

“Changeling” is an ambitious, moving motion picture that could not have been directed by anyone other than Clint Eastwood. The actor-turned-director never appears onscreen, but you can feel his presence. This is a movie made with an angry glare, gritted teeth and clenched fists (all of which, by the way, you can see on full display in the preview for Eastwood’s next film, “Gran Torino”). Typical of Eastwood, this is a movie packed with a heaping helping of righteous anger, tempered with the director’s usual level of compassion and thoughtfulness. It doesn’t quite get everything right in terms of storytelling structure, but the movie’s heart is in the right place, and the emotions that fuel the film carry it through the rough patches.

Angelina Jolie turns in a very fine performance here, demonstrating yet again that she is capable of far more than what she has given us in her “popular” roles in movies like “Wanted”, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, “Tomb Raider”, and “Gone in Sixty Seconds”. Her turn as Christine Collins deserves a place on the shelf right next to her turn as Marianne Pearl in “A Mighty Heart”. The latter was a restrained and low-key drama that never pushed too hard. It was impressive, but just a little on the sterile side. Eastwood pushes harder, as he usually does, and I must admit that the film is all the better for it. Eastwood doesn’t want this to be a quiet little discussion piece; he wants to make your blood boil, and justifiably so.

The level of corruption and self-centeredness demonstrated by the L.A.P.D. in this film is appalling, and yet it never feels like Eastwood is going too far. What he offers us is a portrait of “the banality of evil”, using a combination of bureaucratic excuses, bad paperwork, and subtle adjustments of the law to mask great wrongdoing. These guys grow uncomfortable at the thought of controversy, and do everything they can to try and sweep it under the rug and make it go away. It doesn’t matter how many people are hurt during the process, the only thing that matters is that the status quo of the L.A.P.D. is preserved.

This material is handled with skill by a very strong cast. Jolie is the lead, but I honestly think of this as an ensemble piece. Malkovich is a surprising character; he behaves differently than most religious figures in the movies. He uses the influence of the pulpit not only to offer Biblical teachings, but to try and spark social change. On the flip side of the coin, we have Jeffrey Donovan and Colm Feore as corrupt figures in the police department. Their performances are essays in insufferable behavior. There’s also a terrifying turn from Jason Butler Harner, whose role is best left un-described for the sake of avoiding spoilers.

Once again, Eastwood has elected to hire Clint Eastwood to write an original score. While Mr. Eastwood is a superb actor, director, and producer, many have questioned his musical capabilities. While his skills are admittedly rather limited, in certain cases his music is quite effective, and this is one of them. As you might expect, Eastwood’s score relies predominantly on a gentle theme performed by acoustic guitar and piano, with occasional assistance from solo brass instruments (trumpet, saxophone, etc.) that give the score a vaguely noir-ish feeling. I suspect that the score may be a bit too dull and simplistic on the soundtrack album, but I liked it within the film.

As I hinted, the film is not flawless. Eastwood manages to crank out a very tightly crafted 90 minutes or so, but the third act is just a bit sloppy. The resolution and clean-up of this story goes on too long, and there is an execution scene that could have been snipped completely. There is nothing wrong with the scene in and of itself (such things are inherently dramatic, and Eastwood plays it perfectly), but it doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience other than adding a dose of attention-grabbing drama to the proceedings. The scene that came before it was enough.

Despite this, Eastwood remains a reliably compelling filmmaker, and the film successfully tackles most of the really important stuff with intelligence and deep feeling. I suspect that some will inevitably snap at the movie for being too forceful in the way it deals with certain elements, and that’s understandable. Nonetheless, I think there are times that call for subtlety, and times that call for directness, and I believe that this particular story merits employment of the latter. “Changeling” is a fine film, one that I hope you’ll take the time to see.

Rating: ***

Buy the Changeling soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:00)
  • Ride to School (1:23)
  • Mom’s On Call/Late to Trolley (1:39)
  • Looking for Walter/Waiting for Police (1:41)
  • Where Do You Live/Who Are You? (2:34)
  • I Want My Son Back (1:53)
  • Arrive at Ranch/Looking for Sanford (2:13)
  • People Can’t Change (1:41)
  • We Killed Some Kids (6:19)
  • I Won’t Sign It (2:45)
  • Sanford Digs (2:53)
  • Room 18 (0:54)
  • What Is Happening?/Trial Montage (1:47)
  • Davey Tells Story (4:38)
  • I Want To Go Home (1:02)
  • End Title (6:18)

Running Time: 41 minutes 40 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6934 (2008)

Music composed by Clint Eastwood. Conducted by Lennie Niehaus. Orchestrations by Lennie Niehaus, Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens. Recorded and mixed by Bobby Fernandez. Edited by Chris McGeary. Album produced by Robert Townson.

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