Thursday, August 20, 2009

Changeling [movie review]

* Released theatrically in October 2008; now on DVD
Changeling dramatizes a true crime story set in 1928 Los Angeles amidst the backdrop of rampant police corruption. Single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returns from work one evening to find her nine-year-old son missing. Several months later she is informed he has been found in Illinois. A highly publicized reunion leads to shock as Christine claims the boy is not her son, despite his claims to the contrary. The police, already embroiled in an ongoing public relations nightmare due to accusations (and reluctant acknowledgements) of police brutality, incompetence and corruption convince Christine that she's mistaken, that the boy's physical appearance has changed merely because he's grown and that the mental stress of the ordeal has impaired her reasoning. And so begins a compelling story rooted in intriguing suspense, outstanding performances and beautiful visuals.
Like Gran Torino, the film is another hands-on project for Clint Eastwood, although this time he stays completely behind the camera, taking on the roles of director, producer and composer. The film ranks in the upper echelon of his best directing work, as he takes a complex story ripe for weepy melodramatics and instead delivers a powerful portrait of a mother's blind hope for justice despite imposing circumstances. The attention to period detail is most impressive - every aspect of what's on screen feels like great care was taken to get it there and an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction was well-earned.
Despite a Best Actress Oscar nomination herself, Jolie has taken criticism for not being credible as a simple, single working mother. People offering this opinion claim that the actress' high profile lifestyle has eclipsed her ability to instill a believability to roles where she isn't playing an assassin or international explorer. Rubbish. If you're 30 minutes into Changeling and you're still hung up on trivial things like that then you're just A) a Jolie hater and B) taking your movie stars too seriously. As Jon Lovitz's Saturday Night Live character used to say, "Acting!". Jolie is excellent, as are the rest of the cast, notably John Malkovich as a helpful minister, Michael Kelly as the seemingly sole representative of the LAPD's moral conscience and Geoff Pierson as Collins' legal representative in fighting the system.
Changeling's hefty running time of 141 minutes isn't an impediment - I was actually shocked when I saw the movie ran that long. In my books that alone qualifies as a ringing endorsement.
Rating: 9/10