Monday, February 9, 2009

Changeling: clever serial clichés

Clint Eastwood’s film Changeling is a straightforward narrative.

As the original newspaper clips on the official website confirm, this is based on a true story, the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. If you’ve seen LA Confidential then you’re familiar with the Los Angeles Police Department’s corrupt reputation. It’s an earlier time (1928) but things weren’t much better then in the LAPD. In fact it seems that the authorities would do anything to improve their public image including persecuting innocent single mothers.

They pick on the wrong one this time. Angelina Jolie character, Christine Collins, is someone who “finishes things”. At times Angelina is just too glamorous for this role. You have to wonder why the boy’s father left in the first place. The ‘responsibility’ word leaves a lot unanswered. She is also too cold. You hope that she would might explode with more of the hysterical screaming that wins best actress academy awards. It’s in keeping with Clint Eastwood’s directorial style: control plus.

The re-creation of pre-Depression America is impressive. Sets and costumes are first class. The production has few anachronisms in either dialogue or technology.

The psychiatric hospital is straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, complete with a nurse administering shock treatment who could be Nurse Ratched’s sister.

John Malkovich walks trough his role as the crusading Rev. Gustav Briegleb. Perhaps it’s the curly hair, but his performance lacks the sharpness of his part in Burn After Reading. In keeping with traditional elements of melodram, his congregation cavalry save the heroine from the villains just in the nick of time.

Eastwood is a skilled storyteller and this one is no exception. It’s part crime mystery, part suspense, part horror. Crooked cops almost miss serial killer. The film crosses all the t’s in pulling all these threads together. The result is a series of climaxes which drag out the running time to 141 minutes. When it was jumping to-and-from courtrooms towards the end, it seemed longer. The execution scene doesn't create the clichéd closure for our brave protagonist or the audience.

It's just cinema territory that's too familiar to reach great heights. Nevertheless, if you enjoy the genres, try to see it on the silver screen.

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