Despite Jolie & Eastwood’s Best Effort, Too Much Melodrama In “Changeling”
After seeing “Changeling” there is a moment that I can pinpoint in which the story began to go downhill. Unfortunately, there was probably about 45 minutes of movie left. While those 45 minutes aren’t poor, they don’t match up well against the first section of the movie. However, Angelina Jolie’s performance as Christine Collins is quite fantastic. She holds this movie together and proves that she is indeed a formidable dramatic actress.
This movie is based on the true events surrounding the 1928 Los Angeles case of Christine Collins’ missing son, Walter Collins. After a few months, the Los Angeles Police Department brings a child back to Collins and it is, as I’m sure you have gathered from commercials, not her son. Since this is a Clint Eastwood movie, this doesn’t involve the supernatural or aliens; it truly is not her son.
Ms. Collins is forced to take this boy, claiming to be her son, home with her. She feeds him, bathes him, and watches after him. Of course, he is a complete and total stranger. There are some very powerful scenes in which Jolie is forced to say some uncomfortable things to this boy and it is really brutal stuff. As a mother (you have heard Jolie is a mom right?), I would have to assume that saying some of the things that Jolie had to say had to be extremely difficult, even while in character.
From there, we seen an unbelievable true account of corruption inside the LAPD. Instead of admitting their mistake, the LAPD attempts to destroy Ms. Collins’ credibility. A local radio evangelist, Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), comes to her aid as a vocal opponent of the LAPD. The police department, led by Captain J.J. Jones (an amazingly evil Jeffrey Donovan), eventually reaches a breaking point and has Ms. Collins committed to a mental institution in order to keep her quiet. A small, but important role is played by Amy Ryan as another “patient” in the institution who teaches Collins about the LAPD’s level of corruption.
Eventually, Collins is released from the institution. Unfortunately, her release feels like the penultimate moment of the movie and another movie begins from that point. We learn of another missing boy and follow Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly, in a great performance) to a ranch in Wineville, CA. The movie slowly goes from a powerful thriller to a slow-paced, talky, courtroom drama and that is where the movie begins to fail.
There is one thing that is certain: there is not a better director at getting the best performance from their actors than Clint Eastwood. Christine Collins is a role that could have been played in a showy manner and Jolie plays her as an understated, modest, but strong mother who has been wronged. She rarely raises her voice and when she does, it sounds like it actually is painful for her.
By no means is this a poor movie. The sets are beautiful and, as usual for an Eastwood film, the score is perfect. It just seems like the movie started off with the accelerator to the floor and slowly began to ease up. It’s more a case of the story needing to be finished but that ending is not nearly as interesting as how the whole thing started.
“Changeling” is a good movie and another strong entry for Clint Eastwood’s hot streak. While it is nowhere near “Mystic River” or “Million Dollar Baby”, it is as impressive a feature as it could be with the material given.