Changeling (US - BD)
Gabe is pretty sure that this kid isn't Angelina's son, but he'll double check...
In 1928 Los Angeles, single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returns home from work to discover her nine-year-old son, Walter (Griffith), is missing. She calmly goes through the normal channels, and after a few months she’s informed that Walter has been found alive. But when Walter steps off the train, Christine realizes that the police have brought back the wrong boy. It’s not her son. It’s not her son! Ahem. Meanwhile, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) continues a series of public crucifixions of the Los Angeles Police Department, and uses Christine’s story as a platform to create real change.
Following the earth shatteringly incredible year 2007, 2008 was destined to be a bit of a disappointment. As someone that missed the vast majority of the year’s releases, 2008 was defined broadly as the year in which some of America’s most dependable filmmakers dabbled in middle of the road depressions. Oliver Stone had W., Spike Lee had Miracle at St. Anna, Steven Spielberg had Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, David Fincher had The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I’ll probably catch hell for that one), and Clint Eastwood had Changeling.
Changeling doesn’t fit into my mould perfectly. First of all it wasn’t Clint’s only directorial releases in 2008 ( Grand Torino slipped right under the wire for the Oscars, and I hear it’s a better film), and second, since this is a personal list, I should admit I lost interest in Eastwood a long time ago. I’ll just quickly acknowledge this, as it puts my following review into slightly better context for readers better versed in the director’s work. Basically, I didn’t realize I was supposed to take Eastwood’s films particularly seriously. His CV is up and down in quality all through his career. For every Bird, Unforgiven or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, we’ve got a glut of sub-average to middling like Sudden Impact, The Rookie, or Blood Work. Eastwood paints in very broad emotional strokes in most cases (the three films I mention as good examples are exceptions), and the last of his films I got around to seeing, Mystic River, was such an overrated mess of heavy handed, almost insulting melodrama I didn’t see any reason to keep up.
I probably should’ve gotten around to seeing Clint’s last three films (especially Letters from Iwo Jima), but I didn’t, and so The Changeling is my reintroduction to the director after about six years away. I made the mistake of checking out the rottentomatoes.com page before seeing the film, which is something I usually don’t do unless I’m considering seeing a film in theatres, in order to avoid slanting my opinion before viewing. This was a particularly big mistake because I learned about the Changeling drinking game. There are differing rules depending on where you go, but basically they go something like this: every time Jolie says ‘That’s not my son’, ‘I want my son’, or something to that effect, you take a drink. I don’t drink alcohol myself, but started the game with a full glass of water for fun. I was out of water very quickly, and decided against getting a second glass, for fear of hyper-hydration.
But beyond the silliness of the accusations, it’s actually an effective criticism of the entire film, which is quite repetitive. The police and doctors constantly trying to convince Jolie that the boy is in fact her son gets ridiculous. It’s a repetitive and sloppy means to drive home an obvious point that no one in the audience would possibly dispute. It becomes almost satirical, and cheapens Jolie’s performance. Eastwood effectively takes forty minutes to reveal that this woman loves her child, that her child disappeared, and that the boy the police brought back is… not her son. Around the forty minute mark there is a perfectly efficient telling of the city’s corruption via John Malkovich, which practically begs direct comparison on how to effectively tell a story.
My exact problem with Mystic River is my problem with Changeling—it appears that Eastwood wants to tell troubling stories, and he wants them to effect his audience emotionally, but he doesn’t have faith in his audience’s empathic abilities so he displays every moment as entirely black and white. The ‘that’s not my son’ angle is just one example of this. All throughout the film Jolie is berated by jerks, making the same point again, and again, and again, trying to find a raw nerve in the audience. In my case the nerve was exposed by the grating, but it wasn’t the drama, it was the insistence of this repetition. I understand it’s a period piece, I understand that people reacted differently in the 1920s, and I understand that Eastwood likes telling stories in an old fashion style, but that doesn’t excuse inefficient storytelling from a man we all know is capable of taut and emotionally honest work.
Eastwood’s middling storytelling is all the more frustrating when we consider how interesting the story is. There has been some discussion on how true this particular story is, but the broad facts seem to be generally straight. Sluggish pacing keeps the final act from packing the punch it really should (though I question the use of the last twenty or so minutes, which really could’ve been summed up with a title card), but it wasn’t a bad choice for film, and Eastwood’s visual talents ensure that the story is juiced of all its possible visual grandeur.
Changeling isn’t a great film, but it’s a damn fine looking one, which is the one good thing we can almost always say about this director’s work. Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern opt for a very traditional look at 1920s America, revelling in warm browns, very light skin tones, and deep, dark, blacks. Details are slick and tight without damaging the pretty and subtle blends of muted colour. Sometimes the post-production fiddling (I’m guessing there was a whole lot of digital grading) is very apparent, creating a strange effect in the colour timing, similar to that of colourized black and white films. The low lighting (artificial lighting posing as natural light) would likely play havoc with a standard definition disc, leading to compression noise in skin tones, and the common browns.
Changeling is filmed like a Hollywood classic, but the sound design is entirely modern. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn’t all that aggressive, but the stereo and surround channels are plenty busy considering the film’s unassuming thematic nature. Period appropriate traffic glides through every channel, insane inmates scream out in surround sound, and paparazzi camera flashes pop behind the viewer with impacting LFE hits. The dialogue is expectedly centred according to staging, clear, and consistent, even when Jolie is devolving into hysterics. Eastwood allows his sappy streak to leak into the film’s musical score, which he wrote himself. It’s impressive musically speaking, but is the kind of score that doesn’t really allow the audience to discover the emotions for themselves, which I suppose isn’t surprising considering the contempt the director seems to have for his audience’s sense of empathy.
Though there aren’t a lot of extras on this disc, Blu-ray fans do get a decent selection of U-Control PiP extras, including archives (real news clippings, etc.), Los Angeles: then and now (concerning comparison images), and PiP interviews with the cast and crew. These aren’t available to Profile 1.0 players, but add a bit of flavour for those with the abilities.
Featurettes start with ‘Partners in Crime’, a thirteen minute, relatively fluffy behind the scenes featurette, with special focus on Eastwood’s laid back brand of actor direction. There’s a little bit of genuinely informative stuff in the interviews and behind the scenes footage concerning the costume design, set design, etc, but it’s mostly the ‘We Love Clint’ show, as the interviewees go on and on about how unbelievably great Eastwood is. ‘The Common Thread’ concerns the research that went into Jolie’s performance. Unfortunately, it mostly concerns the physical attributes of the character, like the clothes, and it’s only five minutes long. I genuinely feel that a decent twenty or thirty minute look at the original story would’ve increased my appreciation for the film. I was personally interested enough, even as someone who didn’t really like the film, so I’m positive viewers that actually liked the film would get quite a bit out of such a thing
After avoiding the man’s films for several years I’ve not changed my mind about Eastwood’s tonal control. I still think he’s lost his trust in his audience. I need to get around to seeing all the movies he released between Mystic River and this one so that I may properly gage the man’s current standing, but I can positively judge Changeling on its own merits. Somewhere in this tangled mess of awkward narration is a great story, and despite the hyperbole, the performances are solid. The disc looks wonderful, though extras are lacking, considering the supposed wealth of information on the real life story.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish
Extras: 'Partners in Crime', 'The Common Thread', PiP, Los Angeles: Then and Now, Archives
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich
Length: 142 minutes
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