Clint Eastwood, an Oscar mainstay over the last several years, essentially opened award recognition season in October with Changeling, an Angelina Jolie-starring drama about a woman who's child goes missing. Unfortunately for Eastwood, the movie received mixed critical response and lackluster box office returns.
Nevertheless, after hearing from several friends that they thought the movie was great, I ventured to the theater to see for myself. Unfortunately, while the movie is one of the better films of 2008, high expectations led me to be slightly disappointed.
Changeling explores the emotional journey of Christine Collins, a single mother in the 1920's who faces hardship when her son disappears. Even worse, after months of not knowing where he is, the Los Angeles Police Department finds a boy and returns him to Ms. Collins - except the boy is not her son. Despite her protests, the LAPD insists that the boy is in fact her son, going as far as to admit her into a mental asylum to hide the truth. Oh, and there's also a serial killer lurking around.
Eastwood, who has directed some great movies over the last few years, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima, has set the bar pretty high, and while Changeling contains a lot of his signature styles, including a subtle score and a slowly paced screenplay, the movie just misses the mark. The story is excellent, but Changeling never overpowers in the way it could have so easily.
The movie sort of meanders from one stage to the next and never quite gels perfectly. The serial killer story comes from out of nowhere; Eastwood didn't properly transition into this segment, and it feels like an entirely different picture. Most importantly, Changeling lacks conflict, despite the many opportunities to have such a novel thing. Her kid disappears, the cops bring her the wrong kid, the cops continue to deny that they made a mistake, the cops throw her in a mental asylum, et cetera, et cetera. That is great stuff, but Eastwood never dives deep enough into Christine Collins to make us feel what she feels. As interesting as Changeling is, the films comes off as emotionally flat.
This is strange, because Angelina Jolie delivers an emotional performance. While she does spend half the movie crying, this marks yet another strong performance for the steamy actress; no one ever seems to point this out, but Jolie is one of the few beautiful actresses, if not the only one, whose looks are actually overshadowed by her talent. I wouldn't say Changeling is her best movie, but she does a great job.
Driven by Jolie, Changeling is still an interesting and engaging drama-thriller. It may not be as powerful as I would have liked, but it is never boring. While it pales in comparison to Eastwood's other recent films, it is still a good movie and, in a weak year such as 2008, one of the better ones you'll see.
Changeling is a good movie, but you could wait until DVD.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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