Changeling is a beautiful movie; one long, cool drink of water. The first half is filled with lighter, brighter colors that serve to accentuate the delicate glory that is the one and only Angelina Jolie. The second half dissolves into the Eastwood blues made famous by Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. It’s a feast for the eyes, filled with costumes bound to spawn a lace gloves with twenties style hat craze. The Sex and the City girl inside me flew on wings of fashion throughout the film.
This is a Clint Eastwood movie, through and through. He takes us down the long, long winding, complex and gritty road of J. Michael Straczynski’s script, which follows the real life story of Christine Collins, a mother whose child is kidnapped. In order to quiet the press, the Los Angeles Police Department gives her back someone else’s kid. Collins refuses to accept the stand in boy and never gives up searching for her own son. The tenacity she shows sparks controversy and a trial that leads to reform of the LAPD.
As Collins, Jolie delivers a powerhouse performance; there is no use fighting it, this woman can act. There is a moment, towards the end of the film, when the action star inside her peeks out as she slams a man up against the wall. Otherwise, she plays Collins with tender strength. She is the epitome of the mysterious damsel in distress. She cries a lot and she yells nearly as much, but Jolie plays Collins so subtly that she remains an enigma at the end of the film. Yet, even through all of the tears, we’re left with a sense of admiration for the character. I wanted more, but who doesn’t want more Angelina Jolie?
The plot of the film vacillates from Gone Baby Gone to Mystic River and ends squarely in Flightplan territory. The parent of a kidnapped child has been done. Jolie’s part has been played by Amy Ryan, Sean Penn and Jodie Foster. Yes, none of these actors got locked up in the psyche ward for pissing off the LAPD or had a screaming fight with a serial killer, but they do play crazed parents to the hilt. We find out what happened to Jolie’s lost child about two hours in, but Changeling keeps going, pushing the protective parent thing to the hilt. I would have felt just fine to read the conviction facts in an epilogue at the two hour mark. The rest of the movie could have stood alone as a revenge fantasy. Some parts feel earned, but others feel gratuitous. Does any movie really need a a gruesomely graphic hanging scene?
Angelina Jolie is what makes Changeling worth watching. She brings out something new in Eastwood’s hardened filmmaking style. It’s just that it goes too far. Christine Collins deserves everything that she gets in the end: a fair trial, public affirmation, and the conviction of her son’s kidnapper. She does not deserve those last 25 minutes. Her memory would have been better honored with the quiet dignity 2 hours of film could have provided.