“Changeling” won’t change opinions of Eastwood or Jolie
It could be argued that, as a director, Clint Eastwood’s most potent weapon is his keen eye for casting the right actors in the right roles. In film after film-“Unforgiven,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the list goes on-his casting decisions, which of late have not included himself, have been an important contributor to the power of his films. Known for his “one take” shooting style, Eastwood has relied on the instinctive skills of his actors and has achieved memorable results.
Thus his choice of Angelina Jolie as the star of “Changeling,” an adapted true story, seems a curious one. More celebrity than actress, Jolie portrays single mother Christine Collins, whose nine-year-old son disappears in 1928 Los Angeles.
Like the multiple plots that involve a kidnapping, police corruption, detective work, a grisly murder, and courtroom drama, the role demands Jolie bite off more than she can chew. The film is compelling despite a lack of dramatic focus, and while the actress can’t be blamed for the film’s unfulfilled ambitions, she doesn’t add a single element to make the film appreciably better either.
In fact, there are moments when she’s a distraction-and not just for her pillowy lips. She’s required to blubber almost constantly here, and her redundant reaction to any surprise is to cover her mouth with her hand. Kind of clich? for a film school grad, don’t you think?
We also find ourselves wondering how Jolie manages to keep her heavy makeup on despite a nightmarish detainment in a psychiatric hospital ward.
These distractions aside, there is a fascinating story to be told here, and Eastwood’s penchant for detail is flawless. While the film includes more than a few melodramatic moments, considering the gravity of the material it’s easy to overlook some of performances that feel forced-especially by the child actors who are involved in most of “Changeling’s” best scenes.
Among the ensemble actors, including John Malkovich as cop critic Rev. Briegleb, another notable is Michael Kelly, portraying the dutiful police detective who uncovers the Northcott ranch murders that could offer key information regarding the whereabouts of Ms. Collins’ son.
“Changeling” has a wonderful old-fashioned look and feel to it, and has more to recommend than most current films. Mr. Eastwood, whose “Gran Torino” will hit theaters soon, can’t be expected to hit a home run every time out. “Changeling” won’t alter his status as an actor/director par excellence.
Eastwood has earned the right to make a few questionable decisions as a director. Even in the casting department.
Rated R for unsettling violence, profanity (including three F-words), and mature themes.