Film Reviews

CHANGELING

By • Nov 1st, 2008 •

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Eastwood abandons his unique emotional style for a drama about police corruption. Jolie should have channeled Anna Magnani.

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) wakes up on a typical morning for work in perfectly coifed hair, coal-black eye makeup and false eyelashes! Oh my, I immediately thought. Clint Eastwood has been a major movie star for over 50 years, and it is Jolie who has him star struck! The hell with reality, Jolie wants to look good in her opening shot.

Is this really a true story? Christine is a single mother with a nine-year old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith). She has no family or friends. One Saturday Christine must go to work and leaves Walter alone. When she comes back he has vanished.

It’s Los Angeles in 1928 and Christine’s plight makes the newspapers. But Christine doesn’t have a photo of Walter. There is not even a police sketch.

I do not know what grieving mothers look like or how they act. The only grieving mothers who have lost children I have seen on TV have been Patsy Ramsay, Susan Smith, and Casey Anthony. I’ve seen more visible grief by women losing out at a 75% off sale at Dillards. I do know people who have suddenly lost a spouse. Overnight they drop 20 lbs and age 10 years. They look as if they have been replaced by someone else’s shadow.

Five months after Walter vanishes, the LAPD presents Christine with a young boy who claims to be her son. Christine denies he is her son. He looks nothing like Walter. Walter’s teacher and dentist agree the boy is not Walter. Since Walter had no friends and he and his mother never took any photos, Christine cannot go to the newspapers with witnesses or evidence.

Captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), who wants the public to have faith in the LAPD to solve crimes quickly, tells Christine that she is under stress and Walter is indeed her son. He asks her to take the boy home on a “trial basis”. But if the case is closed, then the police will stop looking for Walter. What can Christine do but take the kid home and put him in school under Walter’s name.

Christine does keep insisting the boy is not Walter and when she starts making problems for the LAPD by holding an impromptu press conference (without a photo of Walter as backup), Captain Jones sends her to a psychiatric hospital. What happens to her job and to the fake Walter? In the psycho ward, Christine finds out that this is where the LAPD dumps troublemakers and wives who will not toe the line.

But Christine does have a champion. Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) is a hell-raising minister with an influential radio show. He likes to keep tabs on the police department and has made it his personal vendetta to fight police corruption. If it weren’t for Rev. Briegleb, Christine would rot in the psycho ward because she will not obey the rules.

While Christine is being held hostage under the threat of the House of Pain, Room 18, Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) is hunting a serial killer. Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) has a young boy for an accomplice who, facing an after-life in Hell, identifies Walter as one of Northcott’s abducted children.

Instead of focusing on Christine’s grief, suffering, loneliness, and helplessness, director Eastwood and his writer, J. Michael Straczynski, leave the emotional core of the story and take us into the courtroom, police corruption, L.A. politics, and how the Earth revolves around the sun.

The evocative, soul-aching despair that Eastwood has demonstrated he is a master of, seen in MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, is missing here. The story is interesting and it clearly is a big departure for Jolie to play an average woman, but I was never involved in Christine’s suffering. The big red lips and distracting eye makeup keep reminding the audience that it is Jolie up there and that she’s acting. Jolie does let loose once she goes into the psycho ward, since hair and makeup people are not on staff at the hospital. Unlike A MIGHTY HEART where Jolie’s Mariane Pearl never shed a tear for her husband and handled the crisis like a general, Christine does cry. But Christine is a reserved woman with a regal stature.

If only Jolie had grabbed the opportunity Eastwood gave her and channeled the great Anna Magnani to play Christine Collins! I never once felt she really missed Walter.

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