May 18, 2013
Written by Jonathan Schumann
Wednesday, 26 November 2008 11:16
For several years, Jonathan Schumann contributed film reviews as part of the “Take Two” father-and-sons movie reviewer team. This week, his father Mark, the “Reel Dad,” steps aside to bring Jonathan back to the column for a guest appearance.
Clint Eastwood’s Changeling feels, much like the director himself, like a relic from another era. It’s the type of melodramatic, bravura yarn about a down-to-earth heroine’s perilous travails that seems better suited for the Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Fontaine set. It’s surprising, then, to see this sudsy tragedy feature the decidedly contemporary Angelina Jolie, she of the big lips, smoky eyes, and world-saving ambition.
Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother living in 1920s Los Angeles. Over the course of a sometimes-laborious two-and-a-half hours, she endures an otherworldly level of suffering (and wardrobe changes) that would make Susan Hayward proud. One day, Christine returns from her job at the phone company to find her young son, Walter, missing. When she calls the police, she gets the first of what turns into many brush-offs. Her search for her son exposes a corrupt police department that would rather silence its critics than admit its own mistakes.
When the police find a boy they claim is Walter, but clearly is not, Christine challenges them. Her crusade to find her son attracts the attention of an evangelical blowhard (John Malkovich, who acted opposite Eastwood to much better effect in In the Line of Fire), who becomes an unlikely partner in Christine’s quest.
Eastwood based the film on a true story, and the narrative suffers for it. True life simply doesn’t move at the compressed pace that even a slow-moving film requires. And even the most exciting lives require a little dramatic license to suit a compelling narrative. Eastwood is too married to the real-life events to keep the audience entertained. With all of the legal and bureaucratic gymnastics that Christine must endure, the film often feels like a second-rate Depression-era crime procedural. (Think CSI: Pasadena.)
Additionally, a critical subplot involving a ruthless serial killer is entirely mishandled. It’s a surprising misstep for Eastwood, who has experienced an unlikely career renaissance with the effortlessly thrilling Mystic River and the beautifully acted Million Dollar Baby.
Given the borderline absurd level of suffering that Christine experiences, it’s a testament to Jolie’s talent that her performance does not become overrun with hysterics. Yes, she has a nasty run-in with electroshock. Yes, she has the requisite “Give me an Oscar” cry scene. Yes, she must endure not one, but two simultaneously occurring trials. And all without smudging her make-up. It’s a star vehicle of the classic model, and even with the best lighting and killer crimson lipstick, Jolie manages to make Christine’s suffering honest and relatable.
Looking for a video to rent? Here’s a suggestion inspired by Changeling.
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