Thursday, March 5, 2009
The most important thing for a movie to do is to pick a story and tell it well. The people behind Changeling picked a great story, but the telling leaves much to be desired.
Part of the appeal is that the story is largely unknown. Indeed, the screenwriter plucked the case of Christine Collins from the archives just before they were scheduled to be destroyed. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is best when it is just relating to us this incredible story. Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) loses her son Walter in 1928 Los Angeles. When the police claim to have found Walter five months later, Christine is overjoyed. But the boy doesn't look much like Walter; he's shorter by three inches and is circumcised.
The scenes where Christine suffers from maltreatment at the hands of the police, who eventually wind up locking her up in a mental hospital to keep her story from embarrassing the department, are shocking and compelling because of their historical accuracy. The story can't, however, make up for some pretty terrible acting. Jeffrey Donovan (the Burn Notice guy) puts on a bad Irish accent to play a ho-hum evil cop and John Malkovich is surprisingly flat as a hero radio pastor. Malkovich is so good at playing dark characters that I thought I detected a darker side to the pastor, but that never developed.
And the worst of them all is Angelina Jolie. I am retroactively shocked at her nomination for Best Actress. Jolie is fine in the scenes where she is mistreated and abused, her face wears silent pain (and tons of whitening makeup) well. But whenever Jolie is given something to do, she falters. When she tries to confront her suppressors, when she has to reach down and give release to her primal pain and anguish, the result is off-putting because of its silliness. Her attempt to look unhinged is formulaic and unbelievable.
The movie is over two hours long. The film doesn't seem overlong until the conclusion, which is drawn out and needlessly confusing. The film keeps making you think there is some hopeful message in Christine's continuing search for her son, but at the end it just makes you think that maybe she isn't all that sane, really.
The movie is well-shot, and captures the feel of it's time-period. But the acting really lets this amazing true story down. For that it gets a 5.2 out of 10.