Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Changeling

Changeling
Released: May 20, 2008 (Cannes), October 24, 2008 (US), January 14, 2009 (RP)
Rating: ♥♥♥

I finally got to see Changeling last night. I wasn’t planning on seeing it but after watching the trailer, I got a little curious. It tells the story of Christine Collins, a single mother in the early 20’s. She is (believe it or not) a supervisor at a PT&T call center. One day, she is left with no choice but to leave her son at home to go to work. She says goodbye to Walter, not knowing that that would be the last time she would ever see him. After hours of overtime, she returns to an empty home and then the story truly begins. She contacts the police and after several months, they tell her that her son has been found in some city in Illinois. This new boy is shorter and looks nothing like Walter. She is adamant that there has been some kind of mistake.

Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins was bittersweet. You cannot deny that she is a beautiful actress but after seeing this movie, I started to wonder if she was worth all the hype. We all know and love her for her strong characters: Gia, Jane Smith, Lisa Rowe, Lara Croft and Original Sin’s Julia Russell. This movie, along with A Mighty Heart and Beyond Borders has me doubting her acting chops. Perhaps it’s just a case of stereotyping but for a woman with a gazillion children, she lacks the tenderness needed to play a distraught mother. When she finds her edge in the movie’s final moments, you sorta understand why they cast her here but I think it would’ve been a better film if they chose a more subdued actress. I would rather see Julianne Moore or Nicole Kidman find their edge at the film’s ending than to see Jolie’s watered down performance.

Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott gave me chills. I think I speak for most people in the cinema that night that he is one creepy man. During his incarceration, an elderly man applauded from two rows behind me. “He deserves to die”, the man added and behind snickers, I agreed that Harner was aptly convincing in this role. I don’t think I’ve seen such a creepy execution since Björk in Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark. The Northcott angle was an interesting take on forgiveness and redemption and showed both Jolie and Harner in top form.

The movie itself was pretty interesting. As usual, Clint Eastwood has a way of making everything look a little gloomy but the story shines through. Online, I read about the stories that influenced the movie: the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, corruption in the LAPD, the disappearance of Walter Collins and the appearance of Alfred Hutchins, Jr., the boy pretending to be Walter. It was interesting how all these things were tied together. J. Michael Straczynski, the film’s writer spent a lot of time and effort researching and documenting these events to form the film’s screenplay. It is said that the script used in shooting the film was taken from Straczynski’s first draft of the film. At times, the lines seemed forced (saying “fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” does not spell empowerment) but for most of the important scenes, lines were hard-hitting and spot on.

Despite the fact that the movie has no real ending, over-all, it’s a good story. It’s a chilling, albeit outdated precautionary tale for single mothers and the dangers of overtime. Kidding aside, while its exploration of such complicated themes as police abuse and women’s rights could use some help, you could see that the thought was there. In the end, you learn that the story isn’t about motherhood but is instead a unique story of hope. The Collins story is one of the strangest and most poignant examples of hope and redemption and the cast and crew have done a great job putting this on the screen.

Photo Credit: Collins/Northcott from npr.org.