Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008)
Changeling is Clint Eastwood's middling account of the struggles of Christine Collins (
Undoubtedly, like most of Eastwood's more recent features, Changeling is visually wonderful. Cinematographer Tom Stern paints this unideal Los Angeles with muted hues that seemingly allude to the moral and political condition of that era: hazy, fading, paling. 1920's-Los Angeles is impressively recreated, from the rows of suburban homes that house the newly affluent middle class to the decrepit abandoned farm in the outskirts of the city that becomes the setting of the horrendous massacre which is the core of the narrative. Populating these structures and edifices are citizens and transients who are occupied by their respective little businesses involving family and employment. The atmosphere of moral and political disarray is conveniently hidden by the bright Californian sun, until an impetus for its timely revelation occurs.
The film primarily concerns itself with Christine's own little entanglements which quickly transformed into the gargantuan task, the aforementioned impetus, of defeating the seemingly indestructible authority, something which she was volunteered for not by her own choosing but by fate and the repercussions of living in a corrupted city. J. Michael Straczynski, in his screenplay, is adamantly straightforward in forwarding the virtues of his headstrong heroine, but in so doing, branches into a myriad of unwieldy subplots and introduces a bevy of mono-dimensional side characters, including Rev. Gustav Briegleb (played with predictably boring enthusiasm by John Malkovich), a Presbyterian minister whose consistently forceful verbal attacks against the police and mental manipulation of Christine feels obnoxiously monomaniacal, Captain J. J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the bad cop whose quintessential grimaces leave nothing to the imagination, and Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner), the serial killer whose attempts at moral and psychological vagueness is more unconvincing than unsettling.
Eastwood's usually guileless and elegant storytelling seems inappropriate for Straczynski's pulpy material. There is a suspect air of reverence, facilitated by Straczynski's over-respectful tribute to his obscure protagonist, Eastwood's consistently competent although unremarkable direction, and Jolie's uncharacteristically quiet but effective turn as the perpetually suffering Christine Collins, that permeates throughout the film. It is an air of reverence that is particularly suffocating and this film, from its introduction of depicting Christine as timid yet industrious single mother (we see Christine at her workplace, well-loved, responsible, and diligently skating around her workplace before returning home to tend to her son) to the emotional trials she patiently goes through, delivers in unrelenting doses.
Changeling is a masterpiece to stubborn Eastwood-followers, gullible feminists, and connoisseurs of high melodrama and manipulative weepers. I also suspect fans of Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), and Manderlay (2005), all of which depict women suffering through very cruel twists of fate, would be comfortable seeing Jolie bullied by the police into accepting a stranger as his son, dragged into the loony bin, and stripped and washed like filthy cattle, among others. To present-day cynics, or even those of us who have admired the simplicity of Eastwood's storytelling, Changeling is a disappointment that borders on being torture.