Saturday, November 1, 2008

Changeling (2008, Clint Eastwood)

A quick look at Eastwood’s filmography will reveal a tendency on his part to make- or even star in- movies that show a distrust of traditional institutions. Whether it’s Dirty Harry’s shunning of due process or Million Dollar Baby’s climactic scene which finds Eastwood stepping outside both the medical system and the teachings of his faith, Eastwood’s films tend to favor finding one’s own solutions to problems instead of leaving it in the hands of others. And with Changeling , Eastwood finds his most dramatically-fertile example to date- the real-life case of Christine Collins, who after her little boy was kidnapped was presented with another child by the LAPD and thrown into a mental hospital when she insisted he wasn’t hers. It’s such a corker of a story that it would be nearly impossible for a director of any skill to mess up, and while Eastwood’s deliberate style sometimes feels overly ponderous, it still works for the material. That’s not to say that more could’ve been made of this story with a somewhat pulpier treatment- imagine what a writer like James Ellroy could make of the Collins case- but Eastwood’s direction is unobtrusive enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the story. Trouble is, the focus is so limited to the story that Christine tends to get lost in it at times. And while I find it refreshing when a movie has no use for gratuitous subplots (love interests and the like), Collins never comes off as much of a character here. Part of it is no doubt due to Angelina Jolie’s limitations as an actress- she’s too modern, steely and self-conscious to work in a period context, for one thing. But while I understand that Christine Collins lived a fairly average life, the film appears to take her as little more than a blank slate, defined almost entirely by her son, first in his presence, then in his absence. If we’re supposed to get involved in Collins’ quest to find her son, we first have to care about her, and I just wasn’t feeling it here. That said, it is a pretty damn great story, and the movie doesn’t piss all over it, so I was interested throughout. I only wish I cared more.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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