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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.32%
Worth A Look43.4%
Average: 41.51%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.77%

6 reviews, 17 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"The Shallow End of Clint’s Ocean"
3 stars

The losing of a child has to be one of the most traumatic situations for any parent, whether it be for a few minutes or a lifetime. The gamut of emotions felt just in a couple moments is enough to never be wished on a worst enemy and yet can be easily identifiable just by seeing a report on the news or read about in a paper. Clint Eastwood has had his fair share of children and grandchildren and who knows how often he might have lost track of any one of them and feared the worst, but he’s certainly found an outlet to communicate that fear with audiences. Having already shown the perspective from both the child (A Perfect World) and the father (Mystic River), Eastwood is now telling the true story of a mother who not only faced her son’s disappearance but a consistent string of false hope that he was still out there to be found. Strong subject matter to be sure, especially as the details of the case become more sinister, but aside from a solid performance by Angelina Jolie, like the real-life details Clint fails in surrounding her with the support to make this anything but just another face on a milk carton.

In 1928, single mother Christine Collins (Jolie) comes home one day and sees no evidence of her son, Walter, having made it back that day from school. After the obligatory 24 hours required to begin a search, more time will pass without any sign of the child. Then, almost by miracle, a boy is left behind by a drifter and the Los Angeles police led by Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) inform Christine that her boy has been found. Publicity is drummed up by the LAPD, desperate to shine some light on themselves after a cloud of corruption, violence and accusations by the Reverend Gustav Brieglab (John Malkovich) whose radio show is a one-man firing squad against the department. When Christine is brought to meet her child at the train station though she comes to a horrific realization. This is not her son.

Jones and doctors brought in by the police try to convince her that stress (on both her part and her son) would cause both a mental and physical strain on the boy’s appearance. But there’s no getting over him being three inches shorter up top (and below), still explained away as being in the company of some deranged circumcisor. Christine understandably won’t let it go though and with Rev. Brieglab’s help publicly embarrasses the police by announcing her findings to the press. For her effort, Jones immediately locks her up in the loony bin to keep her quiet and maybe rethink her position. Meanwhile, further details emerge from another child found in the accompaniment of Gordon Northcutt (Jason Butler Harner), a serious loony who may have a few buried secrets out on his ranch and know full well what has happened to Walter.

The case, known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, may have just faded into the back pages of crime books if not for the extenuating sidestory involving Christine Collins’ added trauma; both of which make for ideal cinematic trauma. True crime, domestic horror and corrupt politics alone have enough graft to drum up interest in filmmakers and audiences alike, but altogether should develop into the kind of perfect storm that is impossible not to inspire outrage and moralistic metaphors about the development of any city, society or country. Changeling’s biggest obstacle is connecting the dots when J. Michael Straczynski’s script paints in such broad numbered strokes much like Universal’s other intermittent biopic this month, Flash of Genius.

First act is clearly the strongest as Jolie gets no less than eight Oscar clips in the first half-hour trying to restrain herself from the full cry while the minutes pass on her boy being lost forever. When Rev. Brieglab is present, he’s little more than a baritone feeding us the horrific things the police have done in the name of justice (including an infamous “Gun Squad”) while quick flashes of their behavior can’t do the same justice of delivering the message that L.A. Confidential did so successfully. While Changeling is setup to be Christine’s story, the LAPD is established as the great Satan, eliminating the competition on the streets for individual gain and locking up women with the potential to expose their methods in and out of the home. Even the operator Christine initially calls sports an attitude that these days would earn a one-way trip to sensitivity training. One-note almost entirely from front-to-back, the faces of the LAPD represented by Donovan’s Jones and Colm Feore’s Chief are masked in laziness and incompetence which could be just political jab at the lawkeeper’s of our land but here just comes off as bad storytelling. Donovan is especially awful in desperately trying to be a low-rent Guy Pierce and pulling off an Irish accent that practically doesn’t exist at first but gets more pronounced as the film goes on.

For all the time spent on trying to spin Christine’s story into a positive, not one moment of positive publicity is dedicated to the good job by the Detective (Michael Kelly) cracking the Northcutt case, who gets not one, not two but three interrogation room scenes with kids; all of which contain the hard-nosed, get-to-the-bottom tactics and are indistinguishable from one to the next. When nearly all the facts finally converge, Changeling gives us, again, not one, but two courtroom sequences (each, conveniently, taking place down the hall from one another) that has the unneeded stigma of an old sitcom episode where Christine must be two places at once and all the dramatic heft of a finale from an Adam Sandler comedy. (Big Daddy, Chuck & Larry, Reign Over Me, take your pick.)

Whatever moral uncertainty Eastwood has explored in the days since Dirty Harry from Unforgiven to Mystic River to Million Dollar Baby, he makes no bones about what line in the sand he stands behind in Changeling. Right up to the moment of justice the baddest of the bad guys deserves, Eastwood lingers on each gallows step and every twitch while still avoiding some of the more disturbing elements of the case from the awkward cover-up down to the molestation of the kidnapped children. The supposed catharsis is a muted affair (outside of Northcutt’s bombastic wimpering) for Collins since the mystery of her own child’s fate still lingers in both of our minds. An extended prologue, five years after the events, and seemingly at a point where Collins has at least accepted her loss well enough to smile again and take invitations at work, is almost masochistic in stomping on this woman’s grief and alerts us to how much Changeling is missing in regards to faith. Christine’s final line of the film suggests an element of spiritual aspirations that is never attached other than as a title preceding Brieglab’s name who is too busy condemning the cops and being all Malkovichy to console her (or his parrish) with that a higher guardian.

Changeling’s story recalls the forgotten melodrama of The Deep End of the Ocean (where Michelle Pfeiffer’s son was returned to her nearly a decade later) and is so dry even in its moments of pure darkness that the sequences that should sing, like Christine parading the returned boy around to dentists and teachers for such clear-cut proof wind up failing to even instill the kind of suspicion that something is amiss from something like Bunny Lake Is Missing. Jolie is giving it her all here, although her performance fails to be elevated to anything more than just a performance, since we can look upon her similar work in last year’s A Mighty Heart and see a far superior film with a script and direction that brought out more than just tears. The questionable decision to mark the time period in the epilogue with the night of the Oscars (complete with betting pools and Jolie calling films “overrated”) is hardly endearing even if it implies the necessity of cinema to escape from the horrors of reality from time to time. Changeling is no escape, but more of a two-hour plus trap that never springs on us; a story of three parts that is thematically as absentee as the child himself and by the end even we don’t know exactly where we are or why Eastwood was trying to get us there. (NOTE: The MPAA did the film no service with it’s “R” rating. Other than a pair of “fuck you’s”, some brief Angelina buns and a shot of a bloody axe, this is a PG-13 film in adult’s clothing. The subject matter, for sure, is dark, but I have a heard time buying into its “thematic elements” when there isn’t much in terms of “theme” to speak of.)

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originally posted: 10/24/08 15:00:00
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User Comments

10/18/09 Terry An exceptionally well crafted on-every-level movie for grown ups. One of Eastwood's best. 5 stars
6/22/09 jurisprudence not a good movie 1 stars
5/14/09 Colin M Yes Angie says "I want my son" hundreds of times, but every time I believed her. 5 stars
4/10/09 conair sucked 1 stars
4/07/09 Baloney Provocative script and a powerful performance couldn't redeem the unimaginative filmmaking. 3 stars
2/25/09 brian Eastwood's best work in years, maybe ever. 5 stars
2/22/09 action movie fan rather slow and somber but very engrossing plot keep it going with interest 3 stars
2/08/09 Poppu Thought provoking as usual 5 stars
12/26/08 mr.mike Somewhat detached direction deprives it of emotional impact it needed. 3 stars
11/29/08 Man Out 6 Bucks Wonderful counteragent to the authority worship of Dragnet lore 5 stars
11/24/08 George Barksdale Good story, held you all through the movie 4 stars
11/24/08 Sandy Strain Excellent movie, but very emotional. A movie I won't soon forget. 5 stars
11/20/08 Colleen H Heartbreaking movie, but well acted and directed. 4 stars
11/14/08 Eva Wisniewski worth seeing, held my attention throughout 4 stars
11/06/08 Brian Babinski Worth seeing, but probably a bit too long. 4 stars
11/02/08 Bert Kaplan a bit slow initially, but overall, a very good movie 4 stars
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  DVD: 17-Feb-2009


  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

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