Clint puts Ange through the wringer in a kidnap drama...

Time was, actors who ventured into directing were treated with disdain verging on contempt – look what happened to poor old Charles Laughton. One actor changed all that.

The guy who started out playing a sidekick called Rowdy Yates in TV series Rawhide has matured into one of the most universally respected
directors in the business.

But nobody’s perfect – not even Clint Eastwood, whose latest starts strong but ultimately doesn’t know when to stop. First though, praise where it’s due. The film’s recreation of ’20s LA, with its rattling streetcars and jalopies, is detailed and utterly convincing.

Maybe Clint has such a spot-on feel for the era and milieu because, only a few years later, that’s where he himself was born. “Is this period footage?” you find yourself wondering, before it subtly segues from monochrome to muted colour.

The opening scenes played out between single working mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) and her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) work just fine. Jolie has said she was channelling memories of her own mother and there’s an unforced, appealing warmth between the two.

J Michael Straczynski’s script draws on a real-life case – in 1928, Collins’ nine-year-old son vanished. After a nationwide police hunt, a boy roughly resembling him showed up claiming to be the missing child.

When Collins protested he wasn’t, the LAPD refused to believe her – and when she persisted, they tossed her into a psych ward.

It’s a powerful story, no question, and speaks volumes about the corruption of the LAPD and society’s attitude to women at the period. “You’re getting emotional, Mrs Collins,” she’s patronisingly told when she points out that the boy they’ve brought her is three inches shorter than her son.

And when she adds that the substitute boy is circumcised, which Walter wasn’t, there’s palpable shock – nice women didn’t mention such things. So far, so gripping. But then flaws creep in. The visuals occasionally turn black-and-white and so too, alas, does the characterisation.

The good guys – the one honest cop (Michael Kelly), the Presbyterian pastor (John Malkovich in a strange blond permed wig) – are staunchly virtuous, while the bad ones are unstintingly villainous.

As Christine, Jolie emotes up a storm and then some. But after the umpteenth shot of her tear-stained, kohleyed, blood-lipsticked face screaming, “He’s not my son!”, the unworthy thought ‘Oscar bid’ slips irresistibly into the mind.

It also doesn’t help that, once things start to go her way, pretty well every character – good and bad – lines up to pay tribute to her courage.

Eastwood’s own score aids and abets the process, ladling washes of mournful gloop over a glut of emotional scenes.

Changeling also has almost as many endings as The Return Of The King. As it pushes on to the middle of the next decade, you begin to wonder if we’re in for a ’60s coda, with a balding Walter showing up to weep in the arms of a white-haired Christine.

The story’s strong – it doesn’t need any sentimental frosting. You can’t help picturing how it would have played under the sardonic gaze of a James Ellroy. But once you invoke the shade of LA Confidential, the game’s pretty much over.

By Philip Kemp

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    • mallardb

      Dec 18th 2008, 14:47


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    • steelneil

      Dec 22nd 2008, 11:26


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    • Nealsreviews1

      May 12th 2009, 17:09


      Christine Collins, a single mother who lost her son & then was victimized by the police, reopens a sore wound in the chronicle of LA. Officials affirmed the case closed when they gave Collins an imposter child. When Christine complained at first she was ignored & then thrown in a mental institution. With the help of a brave minister the case gains national attention resulting in suspension or dismissal of several civic figures. The real - life crime becomes comparable to a Mickey Spillane novel, one filled with crooked cops, pyscho killers, & hapless innocents. Even tempered from the start it evolves into somewhat a horror film then into a courtroom drama each part a little more implausable, a little less gratyfing. The one thing that remains the same is Angelina Jolie who manages to cry out every tear from her eyes throughout the whole film. It is a time period peice that takes place in 1928 Jolie’s costumes are a little unflattering & her acting seems forced at times in this. The relationship between Collins & her nine year old son seems cool, but at times distant even when her son goes missing her demeaner is calm & reserved. For most of the movie Clint Eastwood maintains the straight from the hip style that has become his signature tradmark. adopting an objective viewpoint but also collaborating cinematic devices. But unfortunetly I feel he gets to confined in the somewhat facts of the case which can seem absurd to today’s beliefs. The thin plot of the Changeling doesn’t make a good argument against injustices in the legal system rather the capabilities of a immoral cop. Despite all the talent here the Changeling comes off more of a period version of a Lifetime movie. Neal Damiano Film Critic

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