Before wading into the woeful matter that is "Changeling," may this review acknowledge that Clint Eastwood has been on a roll?
Recently, however, he has started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Eastwood has been renowned for his no-nonsense style of fiscally conservative, story-driven filmmaking, shooting schedules and an allegiance to narrative over star power.
However: Angelina Jolie's star is apparently so incandescent that it blinded Eastwood to the story mechanics that have made his films so sound. Her outsize persona dwarfs whatever drama the movie has to offer. And it isn't much. Which is weird, because the story of Jolie's character, Christine Collins, ought to have us riveted. It is 1928, and Collins is a Pacific Telephone & Telegraph employee in Los Angeles. One day, she finds that her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is gone. Months later, after the police get a report that a kid found in Dekalb, Ill., matches young Walter's description, the kid is returned to Collins. Case closed. Public happy.
Except that the boy isn't her son. And for insisting that this is so, Collins is committed to an insane asylum.
What's MIA in "Changeling" is something to prevent it from becoming penal-system porn: Yes, Christine Collins's suffering at the hands of LAPD captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), who is trying to stanch the damage to his department that the Rev. Gustav Briegleb's (John Malkovich) radio broadcasts have done, creates a great deal of righteous indignation. And far too little intrigue.
No one makes a plausible argument that Walter isn't still out there, missing. Despite a mysterious title, "Changeling" isn't a mystery. It is, occasionally, agony.
"Changeling" is a totally star-driven vehicle in which you find yourself missing something very essential.
-- John Anderson (Oct. 24, 2008)
Contains violence, vulgarity and adult content.