Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Changeling

Thursday, November 13th, 2008 8:26 pm—Film

Changeling (USA 2008, Biography/Crime/Drama/Mystery), Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Director: Clint Eastwood

I can’t think of a strong way to start this. Maybe it’s because I just finished working or maybe it’s because Changeling didn’t inspire any strong feelings in me. I’m going to err on the side of ego and blame the movie rather than my writing stamina.

Changeling is based on the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), whose son went missing just outside of Los Angeles in 1928. The notoriously corrupt LAPD—who were more intent on saving face and appearing to have resolved the case than on bringing the right child home—deliver the wrong boy to Christine and refuse to acknowledge her claims despite seemingly undeniable physical evidence in her favour. When Christine publicly challenges the police, she is thrown in a mental institute until someone comes forward claiming that a serial killer may have murdered her son. Christine is freed, thanks to help from activist Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) and one of the few remaining honest detectives (Michael Kelly), and she makes it her mission not only to discover the truth about her son, but also to seek justice for the other women wrongly sentenced by the LAPD, and to overthrow the police force.

If that sounds like a convoluted plot, it is. The biggest reason Changeling fails is that it tries to fit two, possibly even three, movies into one. Searching for a missing child; exposing corrupt officials; capturing and prosecuting an alleged serial killer… Each of those would stand alone in a movie. To delve into all three takes away from the impact any of them has. Not having read any reviews before seeing the film, I was really surprised when the plot took a twist with the serial killer angle. It made the second half of the movie feel disjointed, as if the two story lines were fighting for room.

The script has other problems beyond its structure and outline. Most of the characters are extremely one-dimensional. As serial killer Gordon Northcott, Jason Butler Harner gives a good performance, but it’s thanks to his and director Clint Eastwood’s talents, not the dialogue.

Overall, I was left with the feeling that I’d seen it all before. Only better. Even scenes involving profoundly disturbing content—like electroshock therapy or a hanging—left me a little cold. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark had much more impact when they tackled such subject matter.

All this isn’t to say that there’s nothing worthwhile about Changeling. The production design and quality are outstanding. Changeling is meticulously blocked, lit and shot. The precision with which it was made reminds me of those black and white movies from the forties, where the actors can’t be an inch off their mark or the lighting won’t fall properly across their faces. Jolie works very well within this structure; she can drop a tear on the head of a pin, and is unquestionably good as Christine Collins.

With a few exceptions, Changeling is a very well realized production of a flawed script. But I don’t think the flaws were overcome. Anything dealing with such weighty subject matter shouldn’t leave me feeling so little. I recommend skipping this one. You can enjoy the same exceptional production value by renting classic films, like Casablanca or Mildred Pierce. And if you’re an Eastwood fan, you’re better off renting Million Dollar Baby, or the devastating Mystic River which features some of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins’ finest work.

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