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March 30, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Changeling is a disappointing return to form for director Clint Eastwood. Especially considered in relation to the success of his next feature Gran Torino, which was so openly racist and featured such bad performances, audiences would find it hard not be in stitches. And Clint played the lead role. And Clint sang the end credit song. About his car. Unfortunately this sort of humour, largely unintentional though it may be, cannot be found in Changeling, and thus it suffers from the same overdramatic storytelling, hackneyed performances and jingoistic patriotism that have damaged all his films since Blood Work.

Changeling tells the based-on-a-true-story of Christine Collins (Jolie), a proud single mother in 1920s Los Angeles, whose son Walter is abducted and returned several months later. Only the boy who has returned is not Walter and his mum has something to say about it. With help from Rev. Gustav Breigleb (Malkovich), Christine begins a crusade to find her son and bring down the LA Police department. The film has an extensive subplot about the man who may have murdered Walter, a further lifeless sequence in a mental institution and a dead 30-minute courtroom scene; they contribute little. Changeling is a film that tries to be and do too much.

Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Christine is determined yet unengaging, and she is unable to carry the film. Her histronic demands for her son and her constantly tear filled eyes (about 80 per cent of the film) wear thin very quickly. Malkovich brings a missing spark to all his scenes but regrettably isn’t enough to stop his underdeveloped, quirky character dissolving into nothing more than another Malkovich-oddball. Jeffery Donovan’s overwrought performance as the police chief is painful to watch.

The best thing about Changeling is the lavish, highly detailed production and costume design. The film evoked a real sense of a time past. The cinematic potential is rife in the fascinating true story on which Changeling was based. Unfortunately Clint butchered it in his interpretation, unable to rise above a clichéd final line about hope. All one can do is hang their head and ponder what could have been if this material was in the hands of Sam Mendes, Martin Scorsese or Ang Lee.

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
With Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich and Amy Ryan

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