Changeling (2008)

Director:  Clint Eastwood
Angelina JolieColm FeoreAmy Ryan

Plot:  A mother's prayer for her kidnapped son to return home is answered, though it doesn't take long for her to suspect the boy who comes back is not hers.

  Crime / Drama / Mystery

Awards:  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Leading Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction.  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  141min

Rating:  M18 
for some violent and disturbing content, and language. 

While some directors, such as Francis Ford Coppola, start out early in their career making great films and then slowly fade away to obscurity, others leave it late to fulfill their directing ambitions. Clint Eastwood is an example of the latter. 

At nearly eighty years of age, Eastwood has won four Oscars including two for Best Director thus far.  Apart from the success of the critically-acclaimed Western Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood has never been a good filmmaker for most part of the late 20th century.

Famous for his acting roles in the Dirty Harry series in the 1970s and 1980s, and as the man-with-no-name in Sergio Leone’s epic western trilogy, the legendary American icon’s meteoric rise to the top of the directing game at the turn of the 21st century is perhaps one of modern cinema’s most remarkable transformations.

Changeling continues the Eastwood revolution that started with Mystic River (2003); he then followed with impressive films such as Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). 

Set in the 1920s, Changeling stars Angelina Jolie as a grief-stricken mother, Christine Collins, whose son Walter had mysteriously disappeared from home one day.  A few months later, the local police finds a Walter look-alike and forces Christine to claim him despite her protests.

The story then evolves into a desperate-mother-versus-incompetent-police clash that lands the former in a hot tub.  Midway into Changeling, another sub-plot involving a serial killer starts to form.  Slowly the interconnecting links of both plots fall into place which gives the film more depth and substance than expected.

Jolie’s performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, and there is a fair chance she may win it.  Despite her celebrity status, she manages to bring herself down to a level where skillful acting takes precedence over glamour and diva-hood.

She brings a sense of commonality to her character; someone who we can sympathize because Christine is an ordinary woman struggling to face up to an overwhelmingly dire circumstance.  Supporting actors Michael Kelly and John Malkovich provide excellent performances that complement Jolie’s without trying to overshadow her.

Changeling is a vintage Eastwood film: earnestly-acted, honestly-directed, beautifully-shot, and full of emotional weight.  The deceivingly simple original score by the man himself echoes the heartbreak, desperation, and determination of a woman who embodies the spirit of hope.  The hope that one day her boy will return safely into her arms again.

The final quarter of Changeling may be a drag to some, but in my opinion, it is there for a reason.  It lays the groundwork for a powerful ending that ensures that no one leaves the theatre with a dry eye.  Changeling is one of the year’s best films and more than proves that Eastwood is indeed one of America’s most trusted and reliable filmmakers. 

GRADE: A (9/10 or 4.5 stars)

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