Film review by: Witney Seibold



            It may have to do with the fact that he’s 78 years old, but there’s something grandly old-fashioned about Clint Eastwood’s directing. Like he’s trying to recreate the pacing and feelings of a Preston Sturges film, but on a grander and more modern scale. His films are subdued, both in execution and in color, and deal with adult themes and topics. No cheap adolescent theatricality or melodrama here. Just well-earned, grown-up theatricality and melodrama.


            This also means a classic five-act structure in which the film’s climax takes place about halfway through, the characters speak in loud, open, unnatural ways, and the main themes are classic ones like motherhood, honesty, tenacity, and the triumph of the Little Guy. This may frustrate some viewers with higher-frequency wavelengths, but can be moving if you bother to tune yourself to Eastwood’s frequency.


            His newest film “Changeling,” written by “Babylon 5” guru J. Michael Straczynski, and scored by Eastwood, is set in the 1920s, and serves as the best examples of the new Eastwood cinema. It follows the true story of Christine Collins (a good, but miscast Angelina Jolie) in the wake of her son Walter’s abduction. The local police search for months, only to return a different boy to her. Rather than admit any misdoings, the police (represented by a gloriously slimy Jeffrey Donovan, and bullying corporal punisher Colm Feore) insist that Christine take the boy anyway, and that she’s merely hysterical. So far do the police want to push the fantasy, that they hire their own psychiatrist to make sure that Christine is a little hysterical. Christine, meanwhile, is approached by an L.A. radio personality, the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), to use the botched kidnapping investigation to uncover rampant police corruption. It’s clear that Briegleb only wants to use Christine, but Christine seems fine with this. It will, after all, reopen the case.


What's wrong? Donchya like this one?

What's wrong? Donchya like this one?


            The police are never once co-operative or friendly. When people come to them with real facts, they are shooed out the door. These cops make Chief Wiggum look like Joe Friday. Eventually Christine makes such a stink with the cops, that they, on the spot, have her committed to a mental institution. She barely survives on the inside, making friends with a knowledgeable inmate (Amy Ryan from “Gone, Baby, Gone.”). We also soon meet a suspicious young man named Norcott (and excellent, and sure to be overlooked Jason Butler Harner) who has been apprehended by the mean-eyed detective Ybarra (Michael Kelly).


            I’m sure you’re wondering about Jolie’s obvious Oscar-baiting performance, so here you go: It’s decent. In true Eastwood fashion, she offers nothing over-the-top or extraneous. She is not a complex modern woman with labyrinthine motivations and backstory. No. She is a hard-working, old-fashioned woman who only knows direct route and small words. No weirdness or quirkiness here. Being a single mother in 1920s Los Angeles should be enough to make her stand out. Also strangely without affect is Malkovich. Who would have thought he was capable of subdued?


            At 145 minutes, “Changeling” does drag in places, and seems to go on for a lot longer than it needs to. Despite this, Eastwood’s formidable and, oddly, waxing directing talent leaves one moved. It won’t win the awards the studio probably hopes it will (leave that to Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” due later this year), but it’s still a good film.

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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