Kevin's Review: Changeling - Not The Film You Think

October 24, 2008

I think it's safe to say that most expect Clint Eastwood's Changeling to be the next Million Dollar Baby. After all, Eastwood directed both, and instead of Hilary Swank front and center, it's now Angelina Jolie as single mother Christine Collins. Both films maintain a studied focus on the lead heroine and the events that surround her, but that's where the similarities end. While Baby was a delicate, heart-breaking gem made rich by a simple story and amazing performances, Changeling is quite the opposite - sprawling in its scale, with drama that is derived from the story's details, which are largely based on true events. While Changeling can wear the badge of "stranger than fiction" proudly, it's definitely no Million Dollar Baby.

But that's not a bad bar to fall short of, considering the impressiveness of Eastwood's former feature - it won four Oscars, after all. For her spotlight role, no emoting on Jolie's part could dare challenge the heights of drama, turmoil and outrage reached independently by the events of the film. So does this mean Changeling is an amazing movie simply because of its subject matter? Of course not. Saying so would mean that A&E specials should be counted as cinematic masterpieces. While Changeling is a painting with compelling outlines and structure, the coloring between the lines borders on ordinary. It's like walking up to a Van Gogh and discovering that it's actually a lithograph - from a distance it seems wonderful and impressive, but upon examination lacks the depth and texture you expect. Still, Changeling is something you might consider hanging on your wall.

Angelina Jolie as distraught mother Christine Collins in a scene from Changeling.Changeling Review

The film begins in late-1920s Los Angeles, wherein Christine Collins' only child, 8-year-old Walter (Gattlin Griffith), mysteriously disappears from their home one weekend. After months pass with no clues, a young boy is discovered a few states over who appears to match Walter's description. He's sent to Los Angeles and is presented to Christine who immediately rejects the boy as not her own. Under intense public pressure and criticism stemming from rampant police corruption, the LAPD is desperate for some positive publicity and convinces Christine to take the boy home "on a trial basis." Captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) tells her that the boy has been through great trauma and she's emotional, so her memory and perspective needs time to adjust. A large portion of Changeling surrounds Christine's claims and the LAPD rationalizing her concerns away with absurd explanations - absurd both in content and delivery. Donovan is laughable - literally, the audience was laughing - when he tries to assuage Christine's evidence that the boy she has taken in is three inches shorter and circumcised when her Walter was, in fact, neither. Instead of these scenes having bite and drama, they come across as ridiculous and comical.

One element that did come across as appropriately tortured and dramatic was the performances by Jolie and John Malkovich. Malkovich stars as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, a community activist who helps Christine in her search. Malkvovich does a superb job in the role, probably because his performance is skillfully inconspicuous. Jolie, on the other hand, is a caricature of emotion. To a degree this suits her, considering the content of Changeling, especially when she is thrown into a mental institution (she channels A Girl Interrupted perfectly). Yet while her presentation and Eastwood's rhythm is noteworthy, you may find yourself impatient in the long, calculated scenes that aim to show Jolie release a tear or deliver a stare of mental collapse. We're more interested in what happened to her son and the creation and resolution of this web of deceit, not constantly reading Jolie's face for the next emotional breakdown.

John Malkovich as Rev. Gustav Briegleb addresses his parish in Changeling.Changeling Review

This distraction from Jolie as the anguished mother is also attributable to the film's runtime. At a not unreasonable 2 hours and 35 minutes, Changeling feels more like 4 hours. Just when you think the film is going to end, up pops an accessory scene of turmoil or closure. During the thick of it, as well, you get the feeling that a number of sequences are just plain gratuitous. Eastwood may be trying to imbue fine doses of drama, but it mainly comes across as unnecessary. Changeling is certainly a compelling story, but it's not a great film. Despite Eastwood's measured elements that made Million Dollar Baby exactly that, Changeling is an unbalanced drama that isn't the film we thought it to be.

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Uhhhh.. It's CHRISTINE Collins. Not Catherine.

My Name on Oct 24, 2008


Yeah that's true. He has her correct name in the photo caption though.

Itri on Oct 24, 2008


This is exactly how I figured this movie was going to go.

tzarinna on Oct 24, 2008


Huuuu! What happened to the english language that another name couldn't be found for this film???? The original "Changeling" movie, starring George C. Scott and Melvyn Douglas etc. Was an exceptional movie for it's era, especially in effects. The story line was excellent and acting was wonderful as well. Another title could have been found with the expansive vocabulary of today!!! I don't even want to see this film, even though one of my favorite actors appears in it. Jeffery Donovan is an up and coming actor. His summer series "Burn Notice" is super! And he is proving to be a very consumat actor!! I love and adore Clint, but nope, not this one for me.

Joanie on Oct 25, 2008


Wow. I just noticed after all this time how terrible the poster for this movie is.

Frost on Oct 28, 2008


I'm going to have to look around for more reviews, because I really wanted to see this film before... but now not as much, especially given how little time I have for movies in the fall... it looked like quite a compelling story too.

dave13 on Oct 30, 2008


Check out this great review of Changeling

Jennifer on Oct 30, 2008


Lately I have been severely disappointed by the reviews on this site. They tend to be a little to knit picky and just a pain to read. Honestly I'm about to stop looking to this site for reviews and stick just to some interesting news. Please be a little more gracious to certain films and don't be so cruel and quick to judge.

Movieraider321 on Oct 31, 2008


I really don't understand your comment #8, especially the last statement. if you look around, my reviews skew consistently higher than the average. for instance, Changeling has a 52 on RT. And what is a review if not a critical analysis of a film? otherwise, these pieces would be relegated to a single paragraph at most. On some level, I enjoy just about every movie I see, but it would be pretty boring just to say that every time...not exactly a review, right?

kevin on Nov 1, 2008


I guess your right number 9. Plus I was a little buzzed when I wrote number 8. I do like your reviews but every once in awhile I like to see something positive about a movie I either 1) was looking forward to seeing or 2) enjoyed seeing. Sorry kevin. Peace

Movieraider321 on Nov 1, 2008


Harsh, insensitive and overly analytical. Viewers spend time deciding for yourself what you think of Clint Eastwood's movie "Changeling. Don't waste your time reading this like I did.

viv on Nov 1, 2008


I thought this review was way to knit picky as well, but it's kind of weird that film was so well received earlier this year at cannes and now it's getting the run around in America. I thought it was fantastic just pitch perfect and the problem is that people were expecting Million Dollar Baby 2(a la the references in this very review) an uplifting, story about the american dream and not a darker and disturbing story about corruption and deceit. Changeling really deserves better reception, and about Jeffrey Donovan's delivery, the laughing had nothing to do with his delivery it was the absurdity of what he was saying, he didn't have to make sense, what she thought didn't matter so he could say any cock-and-bull story and send her off the the asylum. Negative reviews like these steer people away from movies that deserve to be seen, lets review movies as stand alone pieces of art, not continuations of a directors work. The film is a great piece of work even just from a visual point of view, it's cast is exceptional and the score is fantastic.

adrian on Nov 7, 2008


My roommate and I saw this movie and loved every bit of it. Do not listen this review. This movie has you rooting for Angelina's character to get her son back. Of course this is no Million Dollar Baby. Who wants it to be? That has already been done. The Changeling deserves many awards for the well written script and the delivery of the cast. The emotion that this idiot has said he hated was put in at the moments it needed it, just has it should have been. Who goes to see a movie about a boy who is taken from his mother and not expect any emotion? Obviously the guy that wrote this review knows nothing of a good movie or what he is talking about.

Ashley on Dec 11, 2008


bullshit. itsw a great film. ye obvisil have no taste. the reason its good is cas it is different to everyother movie. it didnt end when everyone thought it was going to. thats whats so good about it. as there is nothing worse being able to predict what is going to happen in a fim and this was not the case for changeling.

leona on Jan 30, 2009

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