Lowdown: A single mother fights the authorities in her battle to find her lost son.
What a rare pleasure it is to be able to watch one newly released Clint Eastwood film after the other. Two weeks ago it was the excellent Gran Torino that grabbed a hold of me and this time around it is Changeling.
Set in Los Angeles and starting off during the 1920s, Changeling follows Angelina Jolie, a single mother that manages to do a decent job raising her son while working at a demanding job to make a decent living. Lightning strikes Jolie’s life when, upon returning from an unexpected office engagement, she finds her son missing. Eventually, the LA police steps in, but their delivery is grotesque: The child they have retrieved and claim to be Jolie’s son is obviously not. At first Jolie is shocked enough to walk away with the wrong child, but a day later she cannot take it anymore and wages a mighty battle with the corrupt authorities. Helping her is a priest, played by John Malkovich, who runs a popular radio program dedicated to the cause of exposing corruption within LA’s authorities. Together, they have a mighty two hours and a quarter battle on their hands to prove the authorities wrong and to find the Jolie’s child; and the authorities are hell bent on giving them a fight.
Changeling proved to be quite an emotional experience for me. I couldn’t help but feel for the mother as she kept on banging her head against a thick fortified concrete wall; I couldn’t help but feel total contempt for the corrupt authorities; and I couldn’t help but feel total admiration for the people who went out of their way to help Jolie. The trick question is, what is it in Changeling that makes it such a powerful experience?
The answer is a case of “all of the above”. For a start, Changeling claims to be based on a real story; no matter how much of it is real, that label of authenticity does have its power, because otherwise it would have been really hard to accept that what the authorities did to Jolie’s character could have been possible.
Second, Changeling offers very solid acting showmanship. True, I am not Jolie’s biggest fan, but I do acknowledge she is a very skilled actress (it’s just a pity her talent is routinely wasted on trash like Wanted). In Changeling there is a decisive effort not to bring her looks on the agenda, but her overblown lips are still irritatingly present in most scenes.
The third argument in favor of Changeling power is simple: Clint Eastwood. With a smooth and flowing style he managed to direct a very flowing drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat despite its relatively lengthy length. Well, he certainly had me hooked.
Finally, I have to add a personal note. Being relatively new to the field of fatherhood and having already seen my son in states where his mortality was tested, I do try to play the occasional imaginary game of “how would the world be like” without my son. None of those gaming sessions last long for the simple reason this imaginary game is too hard to contend with; it’s definitely not the pleasure ride my usual games of the imagination are. I therefore suspect Changeling has had such an effect on me because it forced me to play this imaginary game of mine for over two hours. Eastwood has created his powerful experience by using the parenthood instinct natural selection has hard wired into us.
And if you’re looking for me to say a genuinely bad thing about Changeling then I will say this: It’s a pity it doesn’t feature Clint Eastwood, the actor.
Best scene: There are so many to choose from that picking one will obviously do severe injustice to the rest. I will therefore stick with a scene that touched me more than the rest, a scene in which the head psychiatrist in the mental health institute Jolie has been forced into diagnoses her and interprets every observation at his disposal to confirm a conclusion he had concluded long before the session (and not because of any worthwhile evidence). I liked it because we all make the exact same mistake of reaching a conclusion before assessing the evidence all the time, yet we tend to be ignorant of the results of our mistakes; in Changeling’s case, the results were quite severe for Jolie's character.
Technical assessment: Is it just me or does Eastwood tend to slack in the technical department? This Blu-ray’s picture is inconsistent, with some scenes offering more detail than the other. Sound wise, although an improvement over Gran Torino, this is still a rather too subtle effort. Eastwood’s own jazz music is nicely conveyed, though.
Overall: 5 out of 5 intensive stars. Clint Eastwood, I want more, please!