Thursday, May 28, 2009
CHANGELING (2008). Director: Clint Eastwood.
In 1928 Los Angeles Christine Collins' (Angelina Jolie) young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) disappears and a corrupt police force tries to palm off another boy on the mother. When she protests that the boy is not her son, people either think she's confused or wacky. Afraid that Christine will make the police department look bad, Capt Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) has the bewildered, devastated woman locked in the city's psycho ward, which outrages the Rev. Gustav A. Briegleb (John Malkovich), who comes to her aid. Meanwhile another cop, Les Ybarra (Michael Kelly), comes across a young runaway (Eddie Alderson) who tells him a horrifying story of a man, Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner), who has been capturing, penning, and murdering many young boys. Could Walter be among them?
Changeling should have been a devastating movie, and while it does have some powerful scenes (considering the storyline, how could it not?) there's just something missing. Director Eastwood covers the action and keeps things moving, but the film seems better edited than directed; the material just isn't handled in as dramatic a fashion as it could have been. The screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski has a few contrived scenes, such as when the parents of another missing child call Christine to come to the police station. Why? So she can feel even worse that her son is still missing? No -- because it's the only way she could hear the other boy talking about the bravery of her son. Jolie's performance is good, but not really Oscar-worthy, despite her nomination. Malkovich, hopefully made up to look quite elderly, is sufficient but otherwise makes little impression. Very nice work by Harner and Alderson, and the other child actors are excellent. Whatever it's flaws, the movie is absorbing and has a good story based on fact. An anachronism is the use of the term "serial killer" decades before the term came into vogue.
Verdict: Intriguing if somewhat disappointing. ***.