Sunday, February 08, 2009


Year: 2008
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly, Jason Butler Harner, Amy Ryan, Denis O'Hare

Wow, I haven't updated this place for a long time. My apologies. The festive season got to me. Anyway, I'm back, and it's Oscar season again. To start it off, I'm reviewing Clint Eastwood's latest vehicle, Changeling.

Based on a true story, Changeling takes place in 1928 Los Angeles, and centres on Christine Collins, a telegraph switchboard supervisor who is a single mother to her son Walter. One day, she goes to work for an unplanned overtime and leaves Walter at home. She returns later to discover that he's missing. Christine lodges a police report, but no word comes on Walter's whereabouts, until several months later when LAPD captain JJ Jones informs Christine that they have found her son in Illinois. However when they reunite Christine with the boy, she discovers that the boy they brought back isn't Walter.

The police attempt to convince her that the boy is indeed her son and advise her to bring him home. Christine does so, thinking at first that she is in shock. But there is no mistake on her part, Christine is certain that the boy is not Walter. She complains to Captain Jones on his department's error but he won't have any of it. He even sends a doctor to convince Christine of the 'changes' Walter may have gone through the past few months to end up looking different. Christine remains defiant and takes her case to the media, supported by Rev Gustav Brieglieb of the community church, who himself is on a mission to expose corruption in the LAPD. Jones responds in kind by having Christine committed to an asylum under the suggestion that she is delusional.

But just when all hope is lost, a discovery is made by an LAPD detective on a child serial killer up north who may have been responsible for the disappearance of Walter and many other young boys. With that discovery, Christine and Rev Gustav work together to take down the LAPD's corrupt members.

Since it's Clint Eastwood, you can expect this film to be lengthy and very elaborate. Eastwood loves taking his time and it shows. As far as set design and costumes go, Eastwood hits it spot on. The look of 1920-30s LA is beautifully recreated and filmed. Everything from cars, trams, streetwalks and buildings seem authentic.

Performance wise, it's Angelina Jolie that drives it from start to finish. She puts in a good, but not great performance as the distraught yet courageous Christine. I say good but not great because she has put in better work before, such as in Girl, Interrupted (though personally I didn't like her in that one). The other supporting cast members do well too, but all of them take a backseat to Jolie. Even John Malkovich who plays Rev Gustav only comes on half as many times as she does.

But there is something else that bugs me about Changeling. Compared to Eastwood's other films, this one seems less connected on an emotional level. Sure, we do feel for Christine and her plight, but the entire film is more of a reenactment of facts than a drama. In Mystic River, we get to see consequences of emotionally disturbing events. In Million Dollar Baby we get heartbreaking drama. But here, we see how this story based on real events happen, from the start right up to how it ends, fact by fact. Some dramatic scenes are added here and there, but not much registers. It's like everyone's just going through the motions, with no surprises.

And then there's the last 45 minutes of the film which I thought was unnecessarily long. It features Christine confronting the man who supposedly killed her son, his eventual execution and ends with a scene that hints of a possibility that Walter is still alive. All I can say is that this could have been shortened tremendously. The viewers need not be continuosly reminded that Christine loves her son and won't give up on him despite all the facts presented to her blah blah blah. Mr Eastwood, please tighten your film a bit, that's all I ask of you.

In the end, Changeling is an interesting film about the Wineville Chicken Coop murders (that's what the case was called back then), but is not very gripping emotionally. I don't see Jolie winning the Oscar later this month (she's nominated for Best Actress), but I'll give her credit for successfully making this film slightly above average. Just don't put high expectations on it. (3.5/5)

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