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Overall Rating
3.58

Awesome: 11.32%
Worth A Look43.4%
Just Average: 41.51%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 3.77%

6 reviews, 17 user ratings


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Changeling
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Nobody Knows Me"
3 stars

When Clint Eastwood sits down behind the camera and tries to make a good movie--a simple and straightforward story told in a lean, efficient and unfussy manner--the results are often very good (including such seemingly disparate titles as “Play Misty for Me,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “A Perfect World”) and sometimes legitimately great (such as the Oscar-winning triumphs “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” and the perennially underrated Capra-esque comedy “Bronco Billy”). However, when he consciously sets out to make a Great Movie--something profound and important about the human condition--the results (such as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “Mystic River” and his Iwo Jima double-bill of “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”) can be excruciating to sit through. Right from the start, you can tell that his latest effort, “Changeling,” is one of his attempts at a Great Movie and while it isn’t quite as painful as some of his other efforts in this regard, it is still kind of a chore to sit through in the end, not to mention huge amounts of the middle.

Based on a real-life crime case that rocked California nearly eighty years ago, “Changeling” stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a young single mother who lives in a quiet L.A. suburb with her 10-year-old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith) and works as a telephone switchboard supervisor who literally glides amongst her operators on a pair of roller skates. One Saturday, she is unexpectedly called into work on her day off and leaves a disappointed Walter behind with a sandwich in the fridge, a neighbor to check in on him in a few hours and a solemn promise that they will go to the movies the next day as promised. After a full day of work, Christine winds up missing her streetcar and by the time she finally makes it home, she is horrified to discover that Walter has apparently vanished without a trace. For the next five months, she desperately does everything she can to make sure that the police stay on his case and one day, her prayers are finally answered when a boy matching Walter’s description turns up in DeKalb, Illinois after being abandoned at a roadside diner. Naturally, Christine is overjoyed but this quickly turns to confusion and horror when she arrives at the train station to meet him, in an event choreographed by the embattled L.A. police department to provide them with some much-needed good publicity, and discovers that the child that greets her is not her son.

Nonsense, says the cop in charge, Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), when she says that they have found the wrong child--he tells her that she is just in a state of shock after being separated from her son for such a long time and that everything will be all right after a while. At a loss, Christine agrees that this may be the case and takes the child home but soon discovers incontrovertible physical proof that the child is not Walter. However, when she return to Capt. Jones with her evidence, he is weirdly insistent that they have found the right child and that all of this nonsense is simply in her head--he even goes so far as to send a quack doctor over to the house to explain to her why it is perfectly natural that her “son” is now three inches shorter than before and circumcised to boot. Finally realizing that the police aren’t going to be willing to admit that they made a mistake, especially since the kid himself continues to insist that he is Walter (despite suddenly not remembering any of his classmates or his schoolteacher) she begins gathering additional proof as to her claims but before she can make them public, Jones has her sent off to a mental institution that appears to been where every woman in L.A. with a beef against the police winds up.

While Christine goes through the standard loony bin tortures--hosedowns, pills and the ever-present threat of the electroshock machine--the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a tireless crusader against what he believes is massive corruption in all of L.A.’s corridors of power who becomes a keen supporter of Christine and her cause from the start, ensures that she will not be forgotten with nightly radio harangues against the police department for their alleged abuses against the citizens of the city. At the same time, a young Canadian boy (Eddie Alderson) gets picked up by the cops at a remote and seemingly deserted ranch and just before he is to be deported, he makes some startling admissions to the cop that brought him in about some horrifying crimes that he apparently forced to commit with his older companion, Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner). These revelations, combined with Rev. Briegleb’s never-ending crusade not only help free Christine from her hellish confinement but help set in motion a chain of events that winds up having far-reaching effects on virtually every aspect of the city’s power structure.

With its sprawling tale of grief, loss and massive corruption involving the very systems that the citizens of Los Angeles used to wholeheartedly place their faith in, “Changeling” sounds like a cross between Kafka and the kind of sprawling and luridly nightmarish story of the kind that James Ellroy devised in such novels as “L.A. Confidential” and “The Black Dahlia” and if had been told along those lines, it could have worked as both a gripping melodrama and as a fascinating sociological look at the attitudes of the time, a period when a woman could literally have all of her rights taken away from her and be deemed insane for no other reason than the fact that she disagreed with the wrong person at the wrong time. Instead, Eastwood and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski have decided to approach the project as nothing more than a Depression-era riff on Eastwood’s wildly overrated adaptation of “Mystic River.” What this means in essence, is that he has taken all the flaws from that film--wildly mismatched performances and a draggy pace being chief among them--and recast them in an atmosphere in which he can slow the story even further while draining all the life out of the proceedings in much the same way that he draws all the color (aside from Jolie’s ultra-red lips) from Tom Stern’s cinematography. The end result is a film that not only looks like a museum piece but feels like one as well--everything comes across as stiff and starchy and never quite as real as it thinks it is. Like “Mystic River,” the best scenes come at the beginning as Eastwood effectively sets up the drama while offering up a smart and sensitive depiction of a parent dealing with one of the worst things that could possibly happen. However, once her “son” comes back into the picture, the film starts going off the rails. The cops, especially Donovan’s Capt. Jones, are depicted as so weirdly and immediately insistent that the boy is her son that their denial becomes more amusing than horrifying after a while. Once Christine lands in the asylum, Eastwood gives a look at life in the ward that resembles nothing so much as 1950s potboilers like “The Snake Pit,” right down to the blonde nurse right out of a Third Reich recruitment poster, a feisty cohort (Amy Ryan) who lets Christine in on the horrible secrets of the ward and an electroshock machine that gets trotted out whenever a threat is needed. After she finally gets out of there, the film launches immediately into a last act that jams together two separate courtroom sequences, a Death Row visit, an execution and a moment of bittersweet grace and deliverance that, in what is either a sly in-joke or an amazing coincidence, just happens to occur on the day that the Oscars are being handed out. This sequence is easily the worst of the entire film--the entire thing moves at a snail’s pace and yet at the same time, these pivotal moments feel so rushed that they never provide the kind of grand catharsis that they were clearly intended to have.

Though Eastwood has gotten wonderful performances from a wide variety of actors over the years, his work here in that regard is not among his greatest achievements. For example, while I can certainly understand why Angelina Jolie would want to take on a part like this--it is a grand and showy thing in which she gets to weep and rage in a manner usually approved of by award voters--but the problem is that she hasn’t been able to subsume her considerable off-screen person to a degree that would allow her to be believable as Christine. For example, when she played Marianne Pearl in last year’s “A Mighty Heart,” she was able to channel said persona into her performance and the result was one of the best bits of acting that she has ever done. Here, however, she just comes across as too strong and determined to really be plausible--even at the moments when she is meant to be at her weakest and most defeated, she still comes across as too remarkably self-possessed for her own good. The rest of the performances are a mixed bag at best. Donovan (who has shown his chops in projects as varied as “Come Early Morning” and the TV series “Burn Notice”) is hamstrung by a one-note character depiction and Harner is a jittery mess as the man who may be responsible to Walter’s disappearance--he is so off-the-charts odd that he makes Jack Nicholson in “Cry Baby Killer” seem like Anton Chigurh. On the other hand, Eddie Alderson is very affecting as Hamer’s accomplice/victim--his confession speech is arguably one of the film’s strongest moments. The best performance, however, comes from John Malkovich, who contributes a surprisingly subtle and effective turn as the preacher who rallies to Christine’s side for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do--Lord knows that he is one of the great scenery-chewers of our time but as his work here shows, he can be equally mesmerizing and effective in a quieter and less showy role when given the chance.

When Clint Eastwood stepped behind the camera to begin his directorial career, one of the things that made his work so interesting was that he showed a willingness to try new things that he might not have been given a chance to do as a movie star because of his imposing screen persona--while he did do the expected cop films and westerns, he also branched out by doing thrillers (“Play Misty for Me” and “Absolute Power“), low-key dramas (“Honky Tonk Man” and “A Perfect World”), comedies (the perennially underrated “Bronco Billy”), effects-heavy action extravaganzas (“Firefox” and “Space Cowboys”) and even a couple of gentle romances (“Breezy” and “The Bridges of Madison County”). In recent years, however, he seems content to direct nothing more than self-important bits of Oscar bait (with the exception of “Million Dollar Baby”) and while none of them have been outright disasters, this particular line of filmmaking is beginning to reap fewer and fewer artistic rewards. In other words, Eastwood desperately needs to do something new before his directorial skills become as fossilized as his film. “Changeling” is not a complete embarrassment but it just never comes together into the dramatic and emotional powerhouse that it is pretending to be.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17029&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/24/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

10/17/09 Terry An exceptionally well crafted on-every-level movie for grown ups. One of Eastwood's best. 5 stars
6/22/09 jurisprudence not a good movie 1 stars
5/13/09 Colin M Yes Angie says "I want my son" hundreds of times, but every time I believed her. 5 stars
4/09/09 conair sucked 1 stars
4/07/09 Baloney Provocative script and a powerful performance couldn't redeem the unimaginative filmmaking. 3 stars
2/25/09 brian Eastwood's best work in years, maybe ever. 5 stars
2/21/09 action movie fan rather slow and somber but very engrossing plot keep it going with interest 3 stars
2/08/09 Poppu Thought provoking as usual 5 stars
12/25/08 mr.mike Somewhat detached direction deprives it of emotional impact it needed. 3 stars
11/28/08 Man Out 6 Bucks Wonderful counteragent to the authority worship of Dragnet lore 5 stars
11/23/08 George Barksdale Good story, held you all through the movie 4 stars
11/23/08 Sandy Strain Excellent movie, but very emotional. A movie I won't soon forget. 5 stars
11/19/08 Colleen H Heartbreaking movie, but well acted and directed. 4 stars
11/13/08 Eva Wisniewski worth seeing, held my attention throughout 4 stars
11/07/08 PAUL SHORTT A GRIPPING TRUE STORY, BEAUTIFULLY SHOT AND WELL-ACTED 3 stars
11/05/08 Brian Babinski Worth seeing, but probably a bit too long. 4 stars
11/01/08 Bert Kaplan a bit slow initially, but overall, a very good movie 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  24-Oct-2008
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Oct-2008
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009



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