Rated: Changeling (2008)

Changeling continues Clint Eastwood’s recent streak of really great movies that started with Mystic River back in 2003. Eastwood’s experience in creating dramatic tension and interesting characters in front of the camera spans decades, so its no surprise that he is able to do the same from behind the camera as well. Changeling features all the characteristics of recent Eastwood-directed films that we’ve come to expect; great acting, great pace, great plot development, and what I am most blown away by is the fantastic cinematography. Overall, Changeling is a good movie, but neither Eastwood’s greatest or worst in recent times, most likely due to the nature of the subject matter with respect to widespread appeal.

Synopsis: Christine Collins is a single mother living in 1920’s Los Angeles. She is employed at a local telephone exchange and is rather isolated as she mostly keeps to herself and her son. When her son goes missing, a very distressed Collins is forced to deal with the corrupt and overburdened LAPD, which is desperate for positive publicity to win back public support. Maybe a little too desperate, as they hatch a scheme to publicly reunite Collins with her son as a shining example of their fine work by passing another vagabond boy off as her son. Collins is unable to do anything, as the police go to great lengths to convince her and the public as well that this is her son when he is clearly not. Pastor Gustav Briegleb, who has publicly attacked the crooked ways of the police, joins Collins to help her all that he can. He convinces her to fight the corruption, and when she does she inflicts the wrath of Captain J.J. Jones, but also sets into motion a series of events that will unravel the mystery of her son’s dissapearance as well as the police department itself as it tries to cover up its mistakes. Based on a true story.

Acting: Angelina Jolie (Wanted) plays a dramatic role here as Christine Collins. Her experiences from playing a mother in the film A Mighty Heart as well as now in real life have payed dividends, as her performance in this film, while not ground-breaking, is entirely convincing and a welcome departure from seeing her in so many action roles. She captures Collins’ isolation and total devotion for her son perfectly. John Malcovich (Burn After Reading) plays Pastor Briegleb and performs well despite little background info being presented about who this person is/was. Michael Kelly (TV’s The Sopranos) is notable as a police detective, as is Jason Butler Harner (Next) as a sociopath murderer. Unfortunately, this movie has a few poor performances too, Jeffery Donnovan (TV’s Burn Notice) is not consistent throughout the movie, and neither are a few of the child actors. (20/25)

Plot/Script: Overall, the plot is simple enough, never lulls, and manages to maintain an anxious but thrilling tone throughout. The way in which the plot unfolds keeps your attention and reveals just the right amount of information without giving anything away such that all the twists are unexpected. The script is well written, all the characters have believable lines, and it is easy to understand the emotional struggles going on within. I found it interesting how many of the lines were written to help explain the thought processes of the different characters and this helped to make them more believable. The only problem might be that since this movie relies on the bond between mother and son as its primary driving force this may alienate some people, especially when there is no action or “revenge aspect” which might be a draw to other dramatic thrillers. (21/25)

Direction: Eastwood flaunts his talents as director here. The colors and tones are drab to reflect the tone, with emphasis on reds and yellows at times as an artistic touch and to show the warmth of spirit of a handful of characters. I appreciate the way the movie is constructed, Eastwood chooses to release only bits of information about what happened, only revealing everything at the end, which is how it should be. You don’t want to go into a movie thinking you know what will happen, which is what I thought would happen with this movie. Fortunately, even if you think you know the general idea of this movie, Eastwood knows what it takes to surprise you and keep your attention. (24/25)

Editing/Music/X-Factor: The X-Factor of this movie is Eastwood’s ability to create a realistic historical environment in which the story takes place. Eastwood effortlessly captures life in the 1920’s without anything seeming forced, making the movie seem like it could have happened today with the same outcome. However, because of the isolated focus of this movie its neither ground-breaking nor universally applicable its messages may have limited appeal. Editing and music are strong enough, pacing is not forced and nothing drags on too long, and the music is never a nuisance or lacking at appropriate times.  (20/25)

The Verdict:

What Kept Me Watching: An intriguing story that is deeper than first perceptions would suggest, some fine examples of acting, and Eastwood’s signature ability to make history live.

What Killed It: Limited appeal and a few acting issues may be enough to steer some away.

Summary: Add Eastwood’s wealth of experience making history believable to Jolie’s ability to make characters believable and you won’t be disappointed.

Final Rating: (85/100) = B

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