REVIEW: Changeling

141 Minutes // USA // Imagine Entertainment
dir. Clint Eastwood
Sunday, November 2nd, 2008. Silvercity Brampton
starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich & Jeffrey Donovan

Eastwood’s latest effort comes in the form of Changeling, written by J. Michael Straczynski about Christine Collins and her traumatic experience in 1928. The tale is a complete one – full of deceit, corruption, faith, friendship, depravity & copping with insanity. Clint Eastwood exceeds any form that he has previously been associated with in the past in creating this infatuated, but not perfected masterpiece. Eastwood delicately builds up the fragile atmosphere with ordinary plotting and extraordinary intrigue. When the breaking point commences, you feel as if the once fragile atmosphere is now a haunted one. From here on out the film becomes a densely horrific film. Eastwood handles the material better than any other director would have (well, maybe apart from Todd Haynes) and scores big points on expanding his skills into classic pieces. Not only does Eastwood create a perfected classic setting, but he is also able to incorporate an unnerving horrific vibe parallel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s. The more horrific scenes are shot with this mindset. Tom Stern’s work with the camera, combined with Clint’s well suited, but sometimes repetitive score allow this delicate film to blossom into much more. Even with such heavy atmosphere already, Clint does still manage to bring the soot and grit from previous films, but distributes it more subtly than he ever has before, giving it a more prestigious sensation. For as long as the film is, Eastwood manipulates the story into one that is methodically paced, both with timing and subject matter balancing. His introduction of every key character was perfect. Rarely before has a film been so precise.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what the primary plot is. Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) has her son go missing. The police look for her son for weeks and weeks, as does she. Eventually, the police find her son in a small diner many states away. She goes to see her son immediately. When he arrives back to town, she notices something… he isn’t her son. There are many facts to support this claim, but head police officer on the case J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) has too much negativity from the press riding his hide to have this momentous occasion ruined by a woman who definitely isn’t thinking straight. She tries and tries and tries to get her son back, but no one is of any service when the inevitable happens; J.J. Jones has enough of Ms. Collins and throws her into an insane asylum. Her she meets a figure that gives her new hope. From here on out the film takes many surprising turns that are about as suspenseful as lesser Hitchcock, while keeping the melodic pacing it had in the first act. J. Michael Straczynski proves great talent in writing this screenplay. It has everything a truly effective film should contain – not to mention his knack for writing emotionally tense monologues had the audience uneasy in their seats. A very strong effort from a man who I’d underestimated going into the film. His work with his pen is unforgiving and relentless. Changeling is stark tale told exceedingly well.

Like every good film, the performances are what carry it to true success. You can have a great script and great direction, but if you lack the realness and true expression of a great performance, your film will become nothing. With a large amount of unknowns, this was the film’s primary concern. Angelina Jolie is the usual suspect in this film – the glorified, beautiful, well-casted wonder. Many claim she is too good looking to play such a role, but her physical transitions throughout beg to differ. She puts as much physically into the role as she does emotionally in becoming more Christine Collins. Her emphasizing; her painfully exhaled motherly concerns; her loneliness – all of these crucial elements are exposed, baring Jolie naked to the world; but it is not a beautiful, nourishing nudity, but rather a depressing, helpless nudity that urns for a hand that never comes, and when it does, it is in the form of a open-palmed slap. Jolie carries the film on her back justly.

The supporting cast really helps Jolie with her massive load. In small roles, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan & Jason Butler Harner do what most actors wish they could do in leading roles. Malkovich plays Reverend Gustav Briegleb, a man who is hellbent on turning the Los Angeles police department on their back. Although Christine Collins doesn’t believe in the faith he preaches for he is all for the greater good for humanity and does everything possible to help her. Amy Ryan is Carol Dexter, a woman Ms. Collins meets in the insanity containment center. In her eight minutes on screen, Amy Ryan transforms into this woman that no one has seen from her before. A really delicate, but fierce performance. Jeffrey Donovan is also great – he plays J.J. Jones, the corrupt cop. A very subtle performance. Surprising subtle for the role he had. Before I mention the MVP of the film, I need to give some recognition to Eddie Alderson. He plays Sanford Clark. Although he has three scenes, he really only has one where he speaks, and in that one scene he gives a speech that will leave a lump in your throat. His earnest delivery; his sincere depression; his shocking tale – it all develops into the most horrific scene of the film. It will leave you breathless. Jason Butler Harner – touted as the film’s best performer. I must say I agree. He was amazing. Although he only works with severe mental issues, this one-note character gives Harner enough to chew on for his twelve minutes on screen. He plays Gordon Northcott. I won’t tell you who he is, but I will tell you that this performance reminds me of Kurt Russell’s in Death Proof; or perhaps Gary Oldman in Leon. If you love really powerful, scenery chewing performances, you’ll love Jason Butler Harner in Changeling. ***½/****