Friday, December 12, 2008

Changeling (Rhoades)

‘Changeling’ Helps Us Define Clint Eastwood

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Check your dictionary:
change•ling (noun) a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for a real child in infancy.

That definition provides a succinct review of the new Clint Eastwood movie “Changeling,” which stars Angelina Jolie as a mother who doubts that the child returned to her after a kidnapping is her own son.

Scary. But it’s based on a true story.

“Changeling” opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

When Christine Collins’ nine-year-old son Walter goes missing, she’s understandably frantic. Then when the boy is recovered several months later, rather than rejoicing his return, the mother makes a bizarre claim: That he’s not her child.

Busy police and cynical reporters ignore her plea to keep looking for her missing son. After all, the case is closed.

When Christine (Jolie) pushes against the system in Prohibition Era Los Angeles, she learns some awful truths. Branded as crazy, her life endangered, she can’t find anyone who will listen to her story – other than a crusading radio minister (John Malkovich).

Under Eastwood’s sure hand, Jolie proves her earlier Oscar was no fluke. Returning to similar territory, a woman confined to a nut house, she convinces you that she’s under emotional stress, whether real or imagined. Is she the victim of a sinister plot? Or a woman who has gone off the deep end?

In this day of mothers like Casey Anthony and Susan Smith, who’s to know where truth and lie overlap?

The original screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski is based on real events, known at the time in the Los Angeles press as “The Wineville Chicken Murders.” That storyline is intertwined with police corruption in the 1920s and the disappearance of young Walter Collins.
Clint Eastwood approaches this is in a noirish James Ellroy vein, mindful of such Ellroy-inspired films as “L.A. Confidential” and “The Black Dahlia.”

I’m friends with Ellroy’s ex-wife Mary, who tells me they sold the movie rights to “L.A. Confidential” for a paltry $25,000 because they needed the money at the time.

The Straczynski script certainly cost ol’ Clint a lot more, but it was money well spent. This is a taut thriller that keeps you guessing about the mysterious changeling, a boy who is three inches shorter than the original, uncircumcised, and sports different dental work.

Clint Eastwood is something of a changeling himself. Fairies have stolen the actor and left behind a damn fine director!

Sure, we’ve all loved Eastwood’s movie performances, but his late-in-life second career may prove to be the greater talent.

To give credit where it’s due, Clint Eastwood was ranked #2 in Empire (UK) magazine’s “Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time” poll. Entertainment Weekly named him the 16th “Greatest Movie Star of All Time.” And he was named the top box-office star of 1972 and 1973 by the Motion Picture Herald.

Who doesn’t love this lanky 6’ 2” actor of few words? First as the Man With No Name in those spaghetti westerns like “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Then as Dirty Harry checking to see if punks feel lucky in such hardboiled cop movies as “Sudden Impact.” Or as the DJ stalked by a deranged ex-girlfriend in “Play Misty for Me.” Or as that doofus with an orangutan in “Every Which Way But Loose.”

All in all, Eastwood had acted in 66 movies.

Years ago I met him on the set of “Paint Your Wagon,” a muddled musical about the Old West. I watched as he did take after take, stepping through a bar door only to repeatedly blow his lines. He rattled off a string of curses that expressed his frustration in no uncertain terms. You could tell he took his acting seriously, even if this was a silly sing-along role.

But it’s clear he takes his directing even more seriously. Witness, “Mystic River,” “Bird.” “The Unforgiven.” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and “Million Dollar Baby.” And now “Changeling.”
While “Changeling” draws on “Mystic River” sensibilities, it doesn’t quite come up to that water level. But the level it reaches is good enough.

As Clint Eastwood once said, “There’s a lot of great movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven't. You just do the best you can.”

He’s doing pretty good for my money – the price of a movie ticket.

You could say, he makes my day.
[from Solares Hill]

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