October 29, 2008

Changeling (10/29/08)

Lettergrade: B

I didn't know much about Changeling going in other than that Clint Eastwood made it, Angelina Jolie is in it, and it involved a missing child. Had it not been for a free screening at the DGA this week, I probably would have missed it altogether. Nevertheless, the film, despite the fact that the title falls in the 'somewhat uninspiring' to 'shitty' range, is very good, and will likely be a major player throughout Awards Season this spring.

Based on a true story which began in 1928, Jolie's young son is missing when she returns home from work one day. After an investigation that goes on for several months, the police bring her a child whom they say is her boy, height differences and other discrepancies aside. For the next several scenes, I was concerned that we were in for a dramatic retelling of the Dead Parrot Sketch of Monty Python fame - "This isn't my son!" "Yes, it is!" - but the film then side-steps into a searing expose of the LAPD of the era, and the great lengths that it went to in order to conceal its corruption and to avoid pubic embarrassment. You can argue that sections of movie feel a little superfluous and rambly, but the picture overall is solid enough for me to look past most of that, and still give it a strong recommendation.

I like the clean, direct storytelling of Eastwood's movies, and I will be sad when the now-78 year old is no longer making them. Like Woody Allen, Eastwood usually makes one a year (although Clint has a second movie, Gran Torino, in which he also stars, coming out in limited release in December). Both men have also found ways to make movies that are profitable enough that Hollywood studios want to back them, but economical to the point where they can pretty much make what they please, with minimal interference.

Changeling continues Eastwood's fascination both with crime stories and with the Los Angeles of yesterday. Although the influence of Eastwood mentor Don Siegel can be felt here and there, the film takes as much of a cue from Chinatown as from Siegel's crime dramas like Dirty Harry. During his films, I always find myself a little surprised by what a dark guy Eastwood must be to repeatedly make pictures about kidnappers, serial murderers, and other unsavory characters. Above all his other influences, his pictures often remind me of Flannery O'Connor short stories like "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" and "The Misfit" which, although set in the decaying South of the early 20th century, often are about people who commit similar horrifying acts.

Changeling is a movie that requires patience, and it's one where not all the pieces fit together smoothly at the end. Although I'll always be a sucker for pictures like Pineapple Express and Burn After Reading, it's wonderful every so often to be reminded what solid filmmaking for adults is all about.

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