Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Changeling (2008) A Film by Clint Eastwood
Contrary to pyschological norms, Clint Eastwood's creative instincts have arguably increased in response to aging. As a director he is more calculated than ever, and it shows with his latest film Changeling, the true story of the corrupt L.A.P.D. in the 1940's. His film depicts Christine Collins, a working class mother who is lied to by the police after her son disappears inexplicably, and whose well-being is unceasingly ransacked by the authorities that are in place, whether it's the crooked police captain or the menacing lead psychiatrist of the asylum that she is "thrown" into (or as it is so poignantly put by the captain, "escorted" into). The police return the incorrect son to Ms. Collins and she insists it's not hers ("because a mother would know," she pleads); in her attempts to prove her case to the police, her words are unfairly digested and flip-flopped continually. She is irrationally deemed as socially unacceptable.
These acts are all in the interest of sustaining the public image of the self-conscious department of justice. Without a doubt, you'll find yourself squirming in your seat in disgust and wondering if this could still be relevant with today's authorities. After all, they'd be hiding their flaws. Thanks to Eastwood's undeniable wisdom as a storyteller, we are allowed to sift through this question and an array of others. When the plot broadens to grand scope-juggling several bowling pins and managing to catch them all-there is a growing sense of terror. A heinous killing spree and a several fresh faces are shuffled in, but everything pieces together and maintains focus. This is the type of film that could have been burdened by sentimentality and incessant violence, and besides the forced clincher line that ends the film, Eastwood spares us of both of these Hollywood trademarks. Like Mystic River and his duo of World War II films, he exhibits deftness at handling a powerful drama.
In his earlier years, masculine shoot-out films reigned supreme in his oeuvre, but he has become more level-headed and actually brings to screen a largely feminine tale with Changeling. Angelina Jolie plays Ms. Collins, who Eastwood handles pretty well despite occasionally bordering on unrealistic. For a single mother whose son is presumably her life, she is awfully concerned with her chic wardrobe, and through thick and thin she is adorned by an impenetrable layer of bright red lipstick and dark eyeshadow. She works as the supervisor to a telegram enterprise so surely she can afford these items, but one gets the sense that Jolie just couldn't let her pretty girl image be tampered with in a heavier film.
Her sometimes questionable acting is balanced out by two mammoth performances however. John Malkovich (no surprise!) plays a passionately driven and active evangelist in support of Christine's case. It's rewarding to see him bark at the woman in the psych ward. Also Jason Butler Harner plays a senseless serial killer who is downright disturbing to look at. Tom Stern's Oscar-worthy cinematography is also notable. The lighting is superb in its sharp dark and light shadows, although for a director who recently praised longer screen time for singular images in his Sight and Sound interview, some of the greatest shots are often times quickly left in the dust. Fortunately however, Eastwood's amateur days appear to have disappeared in the dust just like Walter Collins, so there is only a promising future to look forward to.