Thursday, January 29, 2009

CHANGELING: Another Jolie Good Role

CHANGELING (police drama)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly and Amy Ryan
Director: Clint Eastwood
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: According to standard police procedure, no action will be taken in a missing person case until 24 hours have elapsed from the moment the person was discovered missing. The police have their reason for this but if you were a mother who had come home to find your nine-year-old boy missing, the 20-plus hours that you have to wait for the police to take action will probably be the longest and most traumatic hours of your life.

This was what happened to Christine Collins, a Los Angeles telephone supervisor circa 1928, who returned home from work one day to find her son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) missing. With Angelina Jolie playing Christine (above), we are taken through a gamut of raw and intense emotions that not only grip us throughout the movie but stay with us long after the film is over...

THE SKINNY: Written by J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Clint Eastwood in his customary
'lackadaisical' style, Changeling is based on a true story connected with the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop Murders which was one of the most horrifying criminal cases in Southern California during the Prohibition era.

The case of Christine's missing boy is pronounced solved by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) a few weeks later. However, the reunion of mother and son, which is held with the Press in attendance, turns out to be another harrowing experience for Christine: the boy is not Walter!

What follows is a nightmare for Christine who, at the insistence of Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), has to take a stranger into her home and live with the fact that the police are no longer looking for Walter. She finds a friend in the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) who takes it upon himself to expose what he sees as the corruption of the LAPD under Chief James E. Davis (Colm Feore).

Told in parallel with Christine's story is an account of the investigations by Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) into the Northcott Ranch in search of a Canadian boy who is in the US illegally. When the boy is taken into custody, his story not only opens the proverbial can of worms but also helped to change the way the LAPD operates.

THE CRITIQUE: In a way, Changeling is a parable of wronged innocence and abuse of power reminiscent of L.A. Confidential. As usual, Eastwood keeps his cards close to his chest, opening them one at a time to reveal new and different sides to his movie. Indeed, he seems to be trying to cover too much ground in this two-and-a-quarter hour film but we never get tired of his plot turns, the panoramic vistas of the American countrysides, or the detailed Twenties sets, especially its vintage cars and buses. Eastwood has also resisted the urge to dramatise the 'violent' scenes at the Northcott Ranch, leaving the atrocities to our imagination.

Of course, the main credit belongs to Jolie who, like in A Mighty Heart, plays a woman who is abruptly and agonisingly deprived of her loved one. Here, her performance is even more enthralling, sharing with us the pain and agony of a mother seemingly caught in a limbo. It is definitely an Oscar-worthy performance. The others, like Malkovich, Donovan and Kelly, also give a good account of themselves in rather demanding roles.

THE LOWDOWN: Changeling is compelling, both for Jolie's performance and Eastwood's helming.


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