Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Changeling Captivates From Start to Finish

They say they save the best for last. Such is the case in the film industry. Every year when the air turns cold in our neck of the woods Oscar-worthy films are released into theaters one right after the other. Changeling, one of this season’s earliest contenders, is 78-year-old director Clint Eastwood’s most recent attempt to strike it rich at the Academy Awards.

Changeling is based on the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a woman who realizes that the boy returned to her is not her missing son. Collins’ missing son ties into the infamous "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders" case. Most of the film focuses on Collins and her attempt to bring the LAPD’s mistakes and corruptions public.

I’ve always been fascinated with time period films of any kind. I admire the hard work put into them by everyone involved from the actors to the director to the set designers. Changeling so easily captures the audience and places them into late 1920’s Los Angeles right from the start. The level of detail instilled by Eastwood is astounding. From cereal boxes to cable trolleys, everything feels authentic. The look and feel of the film is downright professional. This is a top-level production effort from all involved.

As engrossing as the film’s atmosphere is the acting is what carries the film along. Changeling may as well be Angelina Jolie’s coming-out party as a truly respected actress. Her versatility as an actress is shown as she leaps from the stylish 2008 action flick Wanted to this serious and emotionally moving film. Jolie gives a sense of endearment to the character that truly makes the audience care for her struggles. Her performance is powerful and more than just a showcase for a nomination as best actress.

While the spotlight is focused on the dolled up Jolie and her thunderous cries for the return of her real son the rest of the cast is not to be forgotten. Nearly every other performance in Changeling is as convincing as the next. John Malkovich is powerfully influencing as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, the man who spearheaded the fight against the corrupt factions of the police department. Other notable performances include Jeffrey Donovan’s performance as Captain J.J. Jones, leader of the LAPD juvenile department, Amy Ryan’s so good you won’t even recognize her performance as Carol Dexter, a wrongfully imprisoned woman and Jason Butler Harner’s unsettling performance as serial killer Gordon Northcott.

Changeling is as much about theme as it is plot. Eastwood strays from the conventional concept of making the film simply about a grieving mother and police detective work by exploring themes relevant to the time period. In the 1920’s Los Angeles was dominated by men. This only elevates the importance of Collins and the femme-driven battle against the police. The execution of this theme among others all goes hand in hand with Eastwood creating the perfect mood for the film.

Changeling is simply a very well made film. Whether it blows you away or not will depend on your patience. Some will find that it at times is overdramatic and over involving. I, on the other hand, was wrapped up in every minute of the film. I felt that part of the film’s purpose was to slowly and gruelingly detail the plight of Christine Collins dragging the viewer along the ups and downs. Eastwood tells this haunting and sorrowful tale in a way only a veteran like he could. The multi-genre Changeling is emotionally moving, compelling, entertaining and flat out successful as a mystery, thriller, drama and time period piece. This film is not a superficial shot at an Oscar, it’s a well thought out, well crafted and beautifully shot film that captures the audience from beginning to end.

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