I think it relevant to point out that I am not one who abhors the work of Mr. Clint Eastwood. In fact, I have the utmost admiration for the man. His films are generally interesting character studies that are well paced, neatly told, and, more often than not, contain the defining performance of many an actors' respective career. This however, is not the case with his new film Changeling.
Changeling is epic in scope, a surprising choice considering at its core, there is a much more intimate story that is trying to be told. The film follows the "based on a true" narrative of a Los Angeles woman, Christine Collins-- played by the sometimes brilliant Angelina Jolie-- whose young son goes missing from her home in 1928. Her story becomes local news and it attracts the attention of a muckraking preacher by the name of Reverend Briegleb (a well cast John Malkovich). Briegleb is quickly painted as a man on a mission, which he has decided to be the exposing of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department, who he blames for the lack of progress in the case of the missing Collins boy. Soon after, the LAPD delivers Christine's son back to her arms, though to her surprise (and weak protest)-- the boy is not hers. What ensues is nothing short of tragic--Christine fights, cries, struggles, cries some more, and is persistently shut out from the truth by the LAPD as they try and uphold their flailing image and cover up the lie that has been constructed to bring a positive end to the Collins case. The film takes its needed twists and turns, then right when you think we are going to come to a mature unresolved ending, the film starts taking more twists and turns. And right then, when you think we will now come to a mature, but this time resolved ending, the film decides, again, to take more twists and turns. The dramatic ebb and flow becomes excruciating; as the film continues into its second hour, one can't help but hope that some mechanical god of yore would appear on screen, wiping the whole mess of characters out and thereby ending the movie at that exact moment...but it never does.
To be fair, this is be no means a bad movie, in fact, it is probably better than 90% of the films released by the studios this year. That said, and I know I will catch flack for being unable to separate the film from the filmmaker, but this is a Clint Eastwood Picture--I expect more. I expect those aforementioned gleaming performances, I expect classic storytelling at its best, I expect craftsmanship and maturity. Instead what I found in CHANGELING were over-performed roles that were under-written. Scribe J. Michael Stracynski, a talented veteran, finds himself somewhat lost in the vast landscape that is attempted here while he constructs scenes and sequences that could be quite powerful if given the time to breath, but are not. Instead they play like shallow abbreviations of the greatness that they could have been. I genuinely feel that if he had been given or taken the narrative space this film required, the screenplay could have been world's better, and moreover, the film.
The performances, as mentioned, are sub par, surprisingly. When I get the chance to see Ms. Jolie spin a dramatic role, I generally jump at the chance-- here she seemed to have only been given two notes to play and I'm disappointed because she plays them well, I just wish the depth and complexity that she is so capable of could have been on display. In general, the acting is as previously stated, over the top--characters are nothing more than caricatures delivering mostly hokey dialogue in a way that is more consistent with a 1940's comic book than anything else. I do think it is of interest to note that Mr. Stracynski has found much work in more sci-fi and comic fare--the residue on this film is apparent and I feel that it does not work well with the approach to filmmaking that Mr. Eastwood generally employs. The plasticity extends to the picture's design, which feels rather sterile and generally unauthentic. I wonder if our director was hoping to put on display the cinematic stylings of the era (and those that followed closely thereafter) just as Scorsese had done with The Aviator; another film made by a landmark director whose over-reaching cost him what could have been an otherwise great film. On a more positive note, I do think it is worth mentioning cinematographer Tom Stern's excellent work. His expressive use of a light and shadow is dynamic and interesting. He creates emotional depth with the frame, at times giving what is happening on screen more legitimacy than it at times should have.
CHANGELING is a good film that is trying to be a great film--therein is its failure, because in the end, it can only be paraded as a mediocre one. Should you ignore this picture? Definitely not, it is perfect fodder if you want to get through a film that is more than passable--one to enjoy with an accepted sense of fleeting; in other words, don't go in with the expectations that you are to see a trophy winner, you most certainly are not.
CHANGELING opens nationwide October 31st.