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Eastwoods Changeling: an uncoiling of outrage

Roger EbertUniversal Press SyndicateAspen, CO Colorado
UniversalAngelina Jolie in Changeling.
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Clint Eastwoods Changeling made me feel sympathy, and then anger, and then back around again. It is the factual account of a mother whose little boy disappeared, and of a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department running wild. Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins, whose 9-year-old son, Walter, went missing in March 1928. Some months later, the LAPD announced her son had been found alive in DeKalb, Ill.There was a problem. Collins said the boy was not hers. The police, under fire for lawlessness and corruption, had positioned the case as an example of their good work. They were determined to suppress Collins protest. Even though the returned boy was 3 inches shorter than Walter, was not recognized by his teacher and classmates, and had dental records that did not match, Collins was informed she was crazy and locked up in a psychiatric ward on the strength of a captains signature.If her rediscovered son was a poster boy for the cops, her disappearance became the cause of an early radio preacher named Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who had been thundering against police corruption. Meanwhile, a determined detective named Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) was led to the buried bodies of 20 young boys on an isolated chicken ranch outside Winesville, Calif.Eastwoods telling of this story isnt structured as a thriller, but as an uncoiling of outrage. It is clear that the leaders of the LAPD serve and protect one thing: its own tarnished reputation. Jolie joins many other female prisoners whose only crime was to annoy a cop. The institution drugs them, performs shock treatment, punishes any protest. Mental illness is treated as a crime. This is all, as the film observes, based on a true story.Eastwood is one of the finest directors now at work. I often say Im mad at Fassbinder for dying at 38 and denying us decades of his films. In a way, Im also mad at Eastwood for not directing his first film until he was 41. We could not do without his work as an actor. But most of his greatest films as a director have come after retirement age. Some directors start young and get tired. Eastwood is only gathering steam.Changeling is seen with the directness and economy of his mentor, Don Siegel. It has not a single unnecessary stylistic flourish. No contrived dramatics. No shocking stunts. Not a gunshot. A score (by Eastwood) that doesnt underline but observes. The film simply tells its relentless story and rubs the LAPDs face in it. This is the story of an administration that directed from the top down to lie, cheat, torture, extract false confessions, and serve and protect its image. In a way, it is prophetic.The films most riveting performance is by Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, the serial killer. The character could not be adequately described on the page. Harners mesmerizing performance brings him to sinister life as a self-pitying weasel specializing in smarmy phony charm. He doesnt play a sick killer. He embodies one.Jolie plays Christine Collins without unnecessary angles or quirks. She reacts to her sons disappearance as any mother would. But as weeks turn into months, and after the phony son is produced, her anger and resolution swell up until they bring the whole LAPD fabrication crashing down.

Changeling Universal presents a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Robert Lorenz. Music by Clint Eastwood. Running time: 140 minutes. Classified: R (for some violent and disturbing content, and language). Rated: Three and a half stars.

John AndersonThe Washington PostBefore wading into the woeful matter that is Changeling, may this review acknowledge that Clint Eastwood has been on a roll?Recently, however, he has started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Eastwood has been renowned for his no-nonsense style of fiscally conservative, story-driven filmmaking, shooting schedules and an allegiance to narrative over star power.However: Angelina Jolies star is apparently so incandescent that it blinded Eastwood to the story mechanics that have made his films so sound. Her outsize persona dwarfs whatever drama the movie has to offer. And it isnt much. Which is weird, because the story of Jolies character, Christine Collins, ought to have us riveted. Despite a mysterious title, Changeling isnt a mystery. It is, occasionally, agony.Changeling is a totally star-driven vehicle in which you find yourself missing something very essential.


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