20 June 2009
CHANGELING (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2008, US) - 'He's not my son...'
A constant sinister undercurrent lurks near the surface of the 1920's Los Angeles lovingly recreated by Clint Eastwood in his 2008 directorial feature, 'Changeling'. It is a creepy tone that makes this more of a horror film than a traditional Hollywood melodrama, rendering the ghostly and distraught figure of Christine Collins into a victim of police corruption and wider institutional abuse. When Christine Collins son disappears, her initial fears of never finding him again are momentarily allayed by the speedy work of the Los Angeles Police Department. In an attempt to elevate the murky profile of the LAPD in the eyes of the public, they brainwash another missing child into believing he is Walter Collins, the son of Christine Collins. Based on a true story, Eastwood's film also borrows liberally from the lexicon of American film noir, offering an all too familiar portrait of an incompetent, corrupt and oppressively patriarchal Los Angeles police department. The multitude of generic allusions is what makes the film uneven in terms of where exactly it wants to go with the narrative of Walter, the missing child. In addition, the film seems to shift gear very rapidly, charting Christine Collin's journey from victim of the state to a symbol of feminine resilience through a series of highly sentimental scenarios including the cathartic court room sequences in which we find Collin's quickly finding social justice for her traumatic persecution by the police and the horrific mental institution to which she is legally committed as a patient.
Alongside Collin's quest to find her son, Eastwood creates two parallel narratives. The first is motivated by the religious figure of Pastor Gustav Briegleb (a miscast John Malkovich) who uses his radio show to help organise a campaign to not only free Christine Collins but more importantly to articulate the concerns of the public regarding the conduct of the Los Angeles Police Department. The second and equally predictable narrative strand concerns a prolific serial killer whose capture leads to the uncovering of a series of grisly murders directed towards kidnapped children. It's a long film and by the time we reach the point when Christine Collins has learned to live with the prospect of never seeing her son again, the film has already lost its momentum and it left me wondering why I had bothered in the first place. As for Angelina Jolie in the main lead, I always get the uneasy feeling that she is just another pretentious Hollywood actress who is far too busy trying to convince herself that she is a credible performer rather than simply deliver her lines and act. Sadly enough Jolie looking anguished in some of her more over wrought scenes was good enough to get the attention of the Oscars who nominated her in the best actress category. I think she should stick to fulfilling her duties as a humanitarian and continue waving the flag as the best dressed UN ambassador. As for the film, I did enjoy it initially but it's amazing how a few days can change one's opinion and critical stance. It's an odd film because it's not really a disappointing studio picture, but I guess, it left me feeling very little for it and the characters. Altogether, this is one of Eastwood's most unmemorable films to date.