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CHANGELING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Amy Ryan, Geoff Pierson
Director:  Clint Eastwood
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  142 Minutes
Release Date:  February 17, 2009

“He’s NOT MY SON!!”

Film ****

My wife summed it up succinctly after watching Changeling with me:  “Clint Eastwood makes sad movies.”

I had only recently gotten her to watch Million Dollar Baby for the first time, and like many first-time viewers, she had no idea the directions the story would take.  We are both familiar with works like Mystic River and Unforgiven.  These are indeed sad movies…but they are also incredible works of human truth from a man who, much like Luis Bunuel, seems to only get better and more refined with age as a director.

For Changeling, Clint was almost a director for hire by producing partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.  The script, as we are told up front, is a true story, which I would assume means most of the facts amongst the dramatic embellishments are correct.  That’s right down to the court records involved.

The true story moniker is important; had this been merely a work of some writer’s imagination, I think audiences would react with a different kind of anger…we’d feel manipulated and as though our intelligence were insulted.  No scenario could be as bad as this, could it?  Or continually open up into more and more surprising and increasingly dark concentric circles?

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 whose son vanishes one day from their Los Angeles home.  Five months later, the Los Angeles Police Department claims success in finding the boy somewhere in Illinois.  The department has been undergoing public scrutiny for corruption, incompetence and more, so naturally, they want to milk this triumph for all it’s worth.

There is a problem…Christine claims the boy is not her son.  The department, headed by Captain J. J. Jones (Donovan), is not ready to accept another black eye.  Instead of investigating a possible mistake, he goes about trying to convince Christine that SHE’S the one in error…never mind that her returned boy is a few inches shorter, doesn’t have matching dental records, and can’t remember his seat in school.

It’s an enraging prospect that only grows more and more out of control.  Christine only wants her son back; she has no grudge with the LAPD.  But her increased protests lead Donovan and the force to take drastic measures to protect their story and their own sullied reputation.

I want to tread carefully…even though it’s a true story and can be easily looked up, there were places the movie went that I never saw coming…places that were as dark as any I’ve seen in a film, and that left my stomach in knots and my fists clenched in anger.  Suffice to say, Christine is right about the boy, and a strange later break leads a decent cop named Ybarra (Kelly) on the path to something more sickening and bizarre than what Christine is going through.

Allied with Christine is the Reverend Briegleb (Malkovich), a good minister who also has a radio show where he targets police corruption.  He knows Christine isn’t the first victim.  But with his help, and the help of a willing lawyer (Pierson), she might be the last.

This is brilliant, taut filmmaking at its very best.  The movie is beautifully shot, with all the textures and tones of a good period piece, and remarkably acted across the board.  But Eastwood’s instincts as an artist propel this strange and upsetting tale through its real history and into deep emotional truth, which has been his trademark, especially in his senior years.

It’s one of the year’s best films, but make no mistake…this is a harrowing nightmare where Clint ventures into much darker waters than even he has ever navigated before.  Be warned.

Video ****

Very beautiful…as mentioned, Clint captured the period well, and the colors, tones and textures of this Blu-ray offering deliver a remarkably crisp, clean and detailed series of images, like picture postcards from a bygone era. 

Audio ***1/2

Clint Eastwood wrote the music for this film himself, and is just one of the nice touches.  The DTS HD soundtrack sounds remarkably real and vibrant.  Dynamic range is fairly strong for a dialogue-driven piece, and the surround channels offer a touch of ambience here and there.

Features ****

Universal has equipped this disc with their exclusive ‘U-Control’ feature, which allows one click access to numerous extras while you watch.  The picture-in-picture is extremely generous, with plenty of added interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and information, but you can also look at a comparison of Los Angeles then and now, or, perhaps most impressively, peruse archives of real documents pertaining to the actual case.

There are also a pair of featurettes…one focuses on the making of the movie with Clint and other cast and crew members, and the other focuses on Ms. Jolie and the real Christine Collins.

Summary:

Changeling is a masterpiece.  It will absorb, involve, infuriate, and leave you with a new found appreciation for those who will stand up against an entire system for the sake of simple truth and justice.  Highly recommended.

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