Thursday, August 16, 2012

Changeling

By Sati. Thursday, August 16, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
Woman's whisper, mother's cry

“Children and mothers never truly part -
Bound in the beating of each other's heart.”
- Charlotte Gray

Clint Eastwood's movies had brought me to tears many times. I spent most of the last hour of Million Dollar Baby crying, I had tears in my eyes on Mystic River and Perfect World. But it's very rarely that I feel this clenching sensation in my throat and my heart pounding in despair. There are many moments in Changeling when it happened to me, but at the scene where Christine finally erupts with anger, throws a plate against the wall and starts crying in her faint voice for her son back, I've lost it.

There are two biggest assets of the movie – first one is that it's based on actual events. Had it been fictional it would still be devastating, but the movie shows the story of the woman, who went through so much pain, suffering and had to face most of it alone that when you see it, you think it's fiction because it's just too awful to admit that such things happen. Almost everything in this story is petrifying – the corruption of the police, the games the policemen play instead of focusing on finding missing child, the impostor who is completely insensitive to mother's grief, the women trapped in psychiatric institution because they stood up for themselves, the fate of the captured boys who were slaughtered by some stranger on a farm. But because of the movie second's biggest asset – Angelina Jolie's performance as Christine Collins, no matter how the script may be disjointed at times, no matter how Eastwood loses his way and focuses too much on cliches, the drama of this woman remains the movie's core.

Jolie's performance is flawless. It's so intricate and well thought, but at the same time filled with genuine emotions. Christine was a polite and quiet woman and in 1920's women didn't have much opportunity to be outspoken or even heard. Yet Christine's quiet rebellion is seen throughout the movie – she is a single mother, she works as a supervisor, she's very honest with her son. At first when her son goes missing and then the police returns her the wrong child and accuses her of being wrong and a bad mother, she's still the woman trapped by her upbringing and the society – she constantly apologizes, thanks the police officer for nothing and even takes care of the boy who is so obviously lying. Everyone keeps telling her that she is crazy and that it is her son, but she doesn't believe them for a second. She knows in her heart that her son is somewhere out there.
So Christine's rebellion, with a little help from the pastor finally stops being quiet. She realizes that her son is still missing and that LAPD is doing horrible things. Christine has an amazing courage and it's not a courage of a woman, it's the courage of the mother who won't admit her son is gone even in order to save her life. One of the most amazing examples of Jolie's work in the film is when the police arrives to tell her they found “Walter” and when she tries to convince the psychiatric ward's chef that she is sane. Look how much Jolie shows in that scene – Christine is trying to be clever, prove the obvious to the doctor, but when he slowly shows her that no matter what she does she's not gonna be released you can see her expression changing to complete hopelessness and desolation. It's hard to even begin to see Lara Croft in Jolie in this movie. When she calls press conference and slowly approaches them in purring rain to say what have happened to her in her apologetic tone and faint voice you have no idea how much bravery and strength hides under that weak exterior. Angelina's hiding her extraordinary beauty, her make up is always smeared from tears and her clothes are anything but sexy. I don't know how much acting talent is in Jolie and how much the fact she had four kids at the time the movie was being shot was helpful here but her work in Changeling is so mesmerizing, it deserves all the praise in the world.

Too bad because the performance like this deserves masterpiece of a movie and Changeling is far from it. The script is at fault – instead of focusing on one thing – either women situation in 1920's, police's corruption or mother's despair the writer threw in the sequences with the killer on the farm. Jason Butler Harner got amazing reviews from many critics and I don't get it. Yes, it is good performance, but nothing to rave about. And all those sequences, with ghastly farm, kids' bones being dug up, the one and only righteous cop in the entire movie who handles the case are so bland and filled with headache inducing cliches that next to Christine's extraordinary story it feels like two movies chopped and put as one.
The killer's character should be included but all the farm scenes? Why? Movie lost a lot of points because of them. I read a bit about the actual story and I found the information that killer's mother helped him with murderers and actually confessed to the murder of Walter Collins.If the writer and Eastwood wanted to show the story that bad why not show this too? The script is very disappointing. But the redeeming thing is that Eastwood widened his gaze a little bit and instead of focusing just on Christine in his story he showed that she was not alone – all women were treated horrible, like inferior beings.

Academy award nominated Amy Ryan brings in another great performance as Carol, prostitute who becomes friends with Christine in the hospital. There are many things that shift this movie from regular story to story for and about women – but the look Carol and Christine share when the women are freed almost makes Eastwood look like feminist. It's not a good thing when the movie is tendentious and Changeling most definitely is (best example – the phone call Christine makes right after Walter is gone – all of you and the police are well aware that more time needs to pass than few hours before the cops can start looking for someone, but because of Eastwood and Jolie you totally side with Christine in that moment when she is shocked and doesn't believe what's she's hearing). But in case of movie based on actual events, events that horrible, I'm not going to hold that against the film.
As much as Harner's performance disappointed me, Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the cop who handled the Collins case is amazing. Now that's unforgettable performance – he is cynical and so harsh on Christine, that you just want her to punch him in the face. That performance is riveting and even John Malkovich as the pastor pales in comparison. Malkovich's talent was wasted here, but he brings in few great lines and he is the master of being surprised (It's hard not to laugh at his reaction when captain Jones tells him Christine is in the mental institution).

The amount of the horrible things is overwhelming in “Changeling”. In addition the movie has very sullen, sad atmosphere built with, at many times, extraordinary cinematography and lovely, subtle music composed by Eastwood himself. Fortunetly, there are  few rays of hope – lovely scenes where Christine looks for evidence that the impostor is not her son, her triumph over LAPD and the ending. In real life Christine Collins never found her son. I can't even imagine the pain and suffering she must have been going through. Every time the phone rung she must have thought it was Walter. The last thing Christine says in the movie is that she has hope. But in reality, in her last moments of life, she knew she never found her son.
Eastwood manages to leave the audience with positive message, though – the last line doesn't say  “Christine Collins never found her son”. It says “Christine Collins never stopped searching for her son”. Because it's not the movie about finding missing people – it's about fearless love that mother has for her child. There may be no stronger love than this one – after all, people come and go, but no one will ever care about us as much as our mothers do.
Changeling (2008, 141 min)
Plot: Based on true story and set in 1928 the story of Christine Collins  who, having returned home late from having to work overtime on Saturday, finds her son Walter is missing from their home. As the days and weeks go by, the Collins's case becomes the object of a campaign by Pastor Gustav Briegleb who rails against the incompetence and corruption of the Los Angeles police Department. Soon, the police arrive with the news that they have found her boy but when the lad is turned over to her, she realizes that the police have returned a stranger to her in an attempt to bring an end to the public complaints about their handling of her case.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Original Music: Clint Eastwood
Cinematography: Tom Stern  
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore and Amy Ryan

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this review up. It's reminded me how brilliant this film is, without having to see it again. It's one of those films, for me, that I think is outstanding, but I don't really need or want to see it again.

    You picked out two of my favourite parts of the film - Angelina Jolie and Jeffrey Donovan. Without those two in their roles, the film would have suffered it's slightly wobbly script a lot more.

    Heart wrenching is the only way I can describe this film. But knowing that it was based on true events just makes that feel even harsher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, it's a wodnerful film but for me it's just too painful to see it again. Some scenes realy break my heart.

      I glad you liked those two performances they were really so much betteer than the script!

      It truly does, that poor woman :(

      Delete
  2. I've grown cold on Angelina but I still might check this out because it's Clint Eastwood's and the fact that it's based on a true story intrigues me. I might like Angie more in a drama than the ridiculous action stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Angelina has three truly masterful performances - this one and the ones in Gia and Girl Interrupted. She is really good actress when she tries.

      Delete
  3. This is a fantastic review, even if we disagree on a few things. I liked the farm scenes in the film, it was almost like watching two different movies, but they meshed together well in my opinion. I thought the young actor that played Sampson? (I think that was his name) was really something else. Jeffrey Donovan for me was the weakest link. His accent changes throughout the movie and it drove me nuts.

    I agree that Jolie was amazing, especially since she played so meek and vulnerable. I kept thinking to myself: "The real Angelina would've punched that cop in the face and told the entire city to go fuck it's self before accepting someone else's child."

    I seriously love this film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! The fact that it felt like two different movies was a problem for me, same with Eastwood's J. Edgar when there was kidnapping story and everything else - the first one was terrific, the other awful. It looked, in both cases, as there is enough for two films there and stuffing too much in one never works.

      Haha, yeah real Angie would probably be much tougher.

      Delete
  4. The film is flawed as I had issues with how overdrawn the ending was. Yet, I still enjoyed it I felt that Angelina Jolie gave her best performance in years. There was a period where I thought she was spending too much time playing movie star and this made me become a fan of hers again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's definetly her best work in years, I hope we will get more performances as good as this one from her.

      Delete
  5. I wouldn't rate the film that highly, but I agree that Jolie and Donovan were amazing. And the score and cinematography were great as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you liked the movie, it tends to get a lot of unjustified hatred.

      Delete
  6. I'm afraid this film didn't do much for me. I think that is due to two reasons. I was already familiar with the real life case, so I knew she never found her real son, and after watching the movie for a little bit I came to the conclusion that her son was probably killed early on when the police were getting too close. That meant I needed to wait for the film to catch up to where I was already, which was pretty much the end of the movie. It was really made for people who knew nothing about the events.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think even knowledge about the events prior to seeing this wouldn't necessarily be a dealbreaker here - Jolie was terrific enough to enjoy the film.

      Delete
  7. I love Jolie, so i'm happy to read the well deserved praise for her performance here. I think i enjoyed the movie overall more than you tho.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I love her performance. She is my numer 2 this year right after Winslet in Revolutionary Road.

      Delete
  8. I've never actually seen Changeling, but I've heard that it says wonders about Jolie's ability as an actress. It's always been a film on my radar, but I've never bothered to check it out. Another solid review, Sati.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! You should watch it, but be warned it's a very heartbreaking and difficult film.

      Delete
  9. I love how this movie showed the bond of mother and son. But I just can't see Jolie as the 'victim'. I got used to her being a badass and kick ass. It seemed she didn't pull it all out to me. Excellent review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Yeah she worked for me here, but I must say I don't see her as action star first, for me she is mostly an inspiring person with all the good she does with her charity/humanitarian activities.

      Delete
  10. I'm not a huge fan of Angelina Jolie but I thought she was terrific in this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was indeed. She has few good roles but that one would be in my top 3 of her efforts.

      Delete
  11. This movie really shook me to the core when I saw it in theaters. Clint Eastwood can really do know wrong in my book. I agree with you, Sati, about Angelina and the roles she's chosen in the past. Gia, Girl Interrupted and Changeling. She's been choosing too many blockbuster/action roles that just don't let her acting credentials shine. Some are fun to watch, but some seem like a waste of her time. I've been dying for her to go back to picking the darker, edgier roles that she once did, but I guess she's in a different stage of her life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eastwood made some bad films recently, the decline was already visible for me in this one but comparing to J.Edgar and Hereafter it's practically a masterpiece.

      Yeah I wish she made more dramas at least, she is good in action films but they don't really let her show off her acting talent.

      Delete
  12. Many people didn't enjoy this one, but I thought it was fantastic. Nice review.

    ReplyDelete