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"Changeling"

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by J. Michael Straczynski.  Based on a true story.
Starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan and Jason Butler Harner.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  10/21/08

Folks--

Let's put it in print--just from the eyeball test, and sitting in a packed house theater with all the fixins, I would have to say that I will be in complete and utter shock if "Changeling" is not nominated for Best Picture.  I'm not saying it's going to win, but given the film, how good it is, its pedigree (and, come on, Clint Eastwood directing Angelina Jolie in a Ron Howard-and-Brian-Grazer-produced film?), its story and its performances, I will be floored if this one is not buzzed about on Oscar night.

"Changeling" is fantastic, and we can wiggle on specifics, but even the harshest critic should have something good to take away with this film.  Based on a true story set in 1928, a woman named Christine Collins (Jolie) goes to work one day and comes home to find her 9-year-old son missing.  She brings her case to the LAPD--at the time notorious for its crazy-high perception of rampant corruption--and five months after losing her son Walter, lead detective J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) informs Christine that he has good news: they have found her son, who had been abducted and found in Illinois.  But, when the newly-discovered boy arrives at the train station, we discover along with Christine that this boy really is NOT her son...and, the adventure that follows is nothing short of epic, in terms of time, scope, and the discovery of where Walter really is.

Like other Eastwood films, "Changeling" is long; at times, you think they could cut some parts out, but then it's a struggle to figure out what gets the axe, so then you realize that it all needed to be in there.  Certainly, like any story based on fact, you could get a lot of mileage out of naturally-occurring twists and turns, which "Changeling" has and this is in large part thanks to the fact that you almost can't make some of this shit up...and, bam, there's another scene that you can't believe until you realize that the events being depicted really did happen.  Jolie is great, even if she is familiar (she seems to play characters like this in all of her non-action films), but it's the supporting cast that is truly special in "Changeling."

The ensemble probably won't win any awards, but the solidly evil characters played by Donovan, or Colm Feore as the dirty LAPD chief, or Denis O'Hare as the mental institution chief psychiatrist are all hilariously saucy.  (O'Hare was just as saucy in a film as different as you could get from "Changeling", playing a pissed-off neighbor in "Quarantine.")  John Malkovich soaks up his few moments as a local crusader who wants to help Christine expose the LAPD for what it is; even Geoff Pierson is solid as a lawyer late in this film, a guy I remember from his stint as the VP in "24" a couple of seasons ago.  The best of the lot is a child who surfaces mid-film played by Eddie Alderson; I thought Alderson did a great job of conveying the emotions of a kid that went WAY off the beaten path and knows he has something to answer for...

I went to see this with my friends Ross and Anne; Ross wasn't as hot on this as I was, and he didn't like the film's score at all.  If you have seen other Eastwood films and liked those scores, you'll be fine with this one too...it's quiet and unassuming, featuring what sounds like a heavy dose of saxophone throughout.  The film's print looks great and the effects used to create a 1920s Los Angeles looked good to me; images of violence are conveyed in a tone that is tough for some to watch, but to me never felt gratuitous...and, a violent act late in the film is shown plainly but fully, leaving you with a sense of finality for the victim even as you wonder to yourself, "Man, how bad would it suck to go THAT way?"

"Changeling" is great, populist adult entertainment.  With strong acting and a story that could only be real, I think it will be a lock to be a player come awards season, but (like other Jolie non-action films) I don't think this will make a ton of cash, so you may want to get out there to see it soon after it arrives in theaters.  Great stuff and this continues Eastwood's great run over the last five years.  How could an 80-year-old be so good at this?

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09