November 3, 2008

Well, Halloween has come and gone, and although I did not dress up in some silly costume I did celebrate by seeing the new movie Clint Eastwood made. It is called Changeling.

Director Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Changeling, has finally debuted in theaters across the country last Friday. It is a story about Christine Collins, the mother of a kidnapped child, who calls upon the police for help only for them to bring the wrong child home. When she protests and insists that they continue searching for her real child, she incurs the wrath of some of Los Angeles’s most corrupt policemen. This suspenseful drama stars Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, and Jeffrey Donovan of “Burn Notice”. The star power behind this film is considerable, but the high expectations they must meet are also daunting. For the most part, the film lives up to the hype, but viewers who have seen previous Eastwood movies may experience a little déjà vu.


The plot is lengthy, but fairly simple. Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother that clearly loves her child, but comes home from work one day to find he is missing. The police never seem to take her seriously, and even bring back the wrong kid. Captain JJ Jones, played by Jeffrey Donovan, starts to become very agitated and hostile when Collins won’t give up. The Rev. Gustav Breigleb, played by John Malkovich, finds about the crisis and warns the worried mother that the Los Angeles police department is infamous for their brutality and corruption. Throughout the film he occasionally appears and uses his political clout to defend Collins from the police, who do everything in their power to suppress the mother’s voice and discredit her. That is, until a detective discovers that Collins’ real son may have fallen victim to a crazed murderer.


While the story is supposedly based on real events that occurred in the late 1920’s, the title of the film is still oddly appropriate. The word “changeling” refers to early folktales about faerie tale creatures that would steal small children in the night and replace them with simulacrums or living replicas so no one would realize the kids were missing. When the police finally search for and eventually find a child, she immediately realizes he isn’t her boy, but the boy claims otherwise. The irony of a movie about small boys pretending to be other small boys being released on the biggest costume holiday is quite amusing. It isn’t exactly the same situation as the changeling folk stories, but its close. The filmmakers may have been better off if they didn’t name the film after a somewhat obscure fantasy creature.


The characters were all convincing, aside from the occasional stereotype of dirty cops. John Malkovich always a great choice for an outraged white knight. After all, it is the same role we have seen him do many times before, and it never gets old. While the chief of police is a cookie cutter corrupt policeman, Donovan once again makes a convincing misogynist jerk. Even the juvenile imposter is fleshed out well. The one character that seems a little strange is Jolie’s character, despite her excellent acting. She really manages to get into her character, but after playing incredibly hardcore action heroines in Mr. And Mrs. Smith (2005) and Wanted (2008), it can be slightly awkward to see Jolie as this quivering, barely assertive woman. Fortunately, the contrast between these two extremes isn’t drastic enough to hurt the movie, but it does come close.


That being said, the movie flows wonderfully. While the actors portrayed their characters fairly well, the real magic is in the screenwriting and directing. The main characters are very well rounded, and we can empathize with Collins at every moment in the film. Some moments may seem clichéd, but they still come off as plausible or realistic. The film knows when it needs to lighten up. In a time when movies often get too emotional for their own good, this can be quite a relief.


As always, there are flaws to this movie. The most obvious one is that it sometimes gets a little repetitive. Watching Jolie cry incessantly can get old after a while, and the film honestly could be shortened. Much of the plot is similar to Mystic River (2003), another movie Clint Eastwood directed only five years ago.  Both movies are based on true stories about serial killers and both refer to fantasy monsters. The major differences are that Changeling is more about tracking down the victim than the killer, and it is a period piece. Clint Eastwood has every write to establish himself as a director of true crime suspense thrillers, but sometimes a little brevity can go a long way.


The film as a whole is more than worth watching. Its faults are few, and it is a very deep, well thought out story. It isn’t necessarily a movie you could pigeonhole into a specific subgenre, but it is very dramatic and has a great deal of mystery and suspense to it.


 7.9 out of 10