Clint Eastwood's newest film, Changeling, is based on the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) and her involvement with the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which played a a big part in exposing corruption in the LAPD. The movie's plot follows the 1928 disappearance of Collins' son, after which the LAPD tries to get some good press by giving her a boy who is not hers, and then closing the case. Collins' refusal to accept this sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to a farm where young boys are being murdered. There's a lot of plot to pack in, and critics are split over Eastwood's success at turning the real-life story into something compelling. One thing most reviewers seem to agree on, however, is that Jolie's performance is overacted Oscar-bait. The collected reviews, after the jump.Time:
Decisiveness is fine, but it raises the question: What does it take to satisfy Clint Eastwood? Sometimes the answer is: Not much. Or too much, as here in Jolie's high emoting. With flaring red lipstick on a face that hasn't seen much time in the California sun, and with a grieving matched in severity only by her will to learn the truth, Jolie is supposed to be a regular working mom who rises to meet the challenge of dreadful events. The actress is capable of many things, but being ordinary isn't one of them. Jolie seems to know that her startling, cartoonish, monumental beauty is a handicap here, so she goes bigger in her movements. A stream of tears stains her Kabuki makeup; her sighs come with shrugs worthy of Atlas. Underplaying would have helped. So would the casting of an actress who's less glamorous and, I have to say, more human — someone like Naomi Watts.
Based on police files, J. Michael Straczynski's script is too stuffed with incident to have much room for psychological nuance. The characters are either upright or malevolent, depending on whether they represent the average man or the decadent establishment. Even Malkovich, whose performances usually have a sly undertone, portrays a character with no apparent self-interest. Only Harner's accused murderer is intriguingly (and disturbingly) unpredictable.
The clumsy dialogue and stolid performances in secondary roles deserve one another; an exception is a showy but genuinely creepy performance by Jason Butler Harner as the psychotically jovial mass murderer. The story abounds in anachronism, both verbal and dramatic: People didn't talk about self-esteem in the 1920s; they didn't call groups of reporters "the press"; the phrase "begs the question" meant "evades the question," exactly the opposite of what it means today; and women like Christine simply didn't behave as she does in an outlandish climax, however much Angelina Jolie may have wanted to cross Ida Lupino with Erin Brockovich.
Though "Changeling" stars actress of the moment Angelina Jolie, Eastwood's films are invariably old-fashioned, in the best sense, in that they are concerned with telling a story. Increasingly over this last five years the stories told have darkened, and "Changeling" unfolds with a melancholy fatalism, a sense of evil so pervasive it takes an act of will to believe that the persistence of goodness can make a difference.
But key characters lack dimension, particularly Capt. Jones and Christine. He has no redeeming qualities, and she has no flaws. It's as if Eastwood forgot to give her a personality. Instead, he calls for repetitive and unrevealing close-ups of her suffering face. Her lack of affect is punctuated by regular outbursts of "He's not my son!" While the neo-Gothic tale is inherently intriguing, the film should inspire strong emotion, but deliberate pacing and a contained sense of melodrama make it a surprisingly passive experience.
That seems to be the plan behind “Changeling,” at any rate, an ambition telegraphed a shade too blatantly in the many close-ups of Ms. Jolie’s extraordinary face, which is by turns tear-streaked, stoical, crestfallen and howling. To watch her trace Christine’s harrowing emotional passage — a series of flights from anxiety to terror, from grief to rage, pausing occasionally at calm defiance or tremulous hope — is to witness an undeniable tour de force of screen acting. It insists on being regarded as a great performance and may, indeed, be mistaken for one.
Jolie gets to do all the messy scenes that Oscar voters suck up like oysters at a free buffet. The "Snake Pit"-style insanity stuff, the noble-mother stuff — she explains to Walter early on that on the day Walter was born, his father received a box containing "responsibility," and that Dad chose not to open it. J. Michael Straczynski's script is full of such nuggets, as well as about six endings to the story. These include a confrontation with serial killer Gordon Northcott (a terrific Jason Butler Harner, who really is Oscar-worthy) in which Eastwood imposes no directorial restraint and Jolie shows that "A Mighty Heart" was just a warm-up in the histrionics marathon.
By the time it's over, Changeling has proven itself not merely a contender for the worst film of the year, but a contender for the worst domestic tragedy, the worst conspiracy thriller, the worst serial killer flick, and the worst courtroom drama. It is that rare movie which, long after you think it's exhausted the possibilities, keeps discovering new ways to fail.
"Changeling" displays the directness and economy of his mentor, Don Siegel. It has not a single unnecessary stylistic flourish. No contrived dramatics. No shocking stunts. Not a gunshot. A score (by Eastwood) that doesn't underline but observes. The film simply tells its relentless story and rubs the LAPD's face in it. This is the story of an administration that directed from the top down to lie, cheat, torture, extract false confessions and serve to protect its image. In a way, it is prophetic.
Yet there's little mystery, and therefore very little drama, to any of this. Jolie, who brought a tremulous power to her portrayal of Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart — another woman distraught over a lost loved one — isn't given enough notes to play here. She's brave, despairing, defiant, and monotonous. Changeling is a muckraker that crushes the audience under the dull weight of injustice. And when the film starts to show you what really happened to Walter, it grows even more oppressive. The trouble with Changeling is that it plays less like reality than like a bare-bones, moralistic rehash of other, better movies, such as L.A. Confidential or Frances. The oldfangled deliberateness of Eastwood's style has backfired this time, only adding to the sense that though you may not have heard this particular story before, you already know everything that's coming.
Working from a screenplay by Babylon 5 creator and comics fixture J. Michael Straczynski, Eastwood creates a tone that's at once stately and unsettling, allowing a lot of breathing room for Jolie's sad, unyielding performance. She anchors a film that needs an anchor the further it goes along. Where much of Changeling works at once as a compelling mystery and an agonizing human drama, it starts to drift in a series of final scenes that finish the story while losing all sense of urgency. But in the end, it's the big picture that lingers, a vision of a city in which poor stewardship and institutional rot claims victims as surely as criminals, tying up loose ends with manufactured endings that fall part with a tug.
Still, Chinatown now stands out as one of the great American films, whereas Changeling doesn’t and probably never will. Why? The writing and direction are competent enough. It is well enough acted by Ms. Jolie (though her heavy lipstick seemed to me to blow up her lips to Betty Boopish proportions), Mr. Malkovich, Mr. Donovan, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Harner, Ms. Ryan, and the two child actors, Master Griffith and Master Conti. Also commendable are James J. Murakami’s production design, Tom Stern’s cinematography and Deborah Hopper’s costuming. Nevertheless, Changeling lacks Chinatown’s passion and humor, and seems much too long for its one-note subject. True or not, there is a limit to how much unjustified persecution can be dumped on a character without the audience beginning to feel manipulated.
Here's the problem with Changeling the new Clint Eastwood film starring Angelina Jolie, actually it's one of the problems, but it's the biggest, the brightest and the reddest — Angelina Jolie's lips. Every single person I've talked to who has seen the film — especially the women — the first thing out of their mouth is what a distraction her lips are. One actually said, "am I making too much of this" which I have been thinking to myself over the last couple of days. As a feminist, I really try to see beyond the looks and lips but this film made it virtually impossible because they were so big onscreen and were a total distraction. I think this has become a real problem for Angelina Jolie the actress because she seem to be getting in the way of herself. The lips are a reflection of the tone of the film which is a male interpretation of a woman, and Jolie is the perfect person to embody that reflection. She's gorgeous and sexy, yet is always seen through the reflection of her family. This could have been a feminist story — a woman fights back after being thrown in the nut house because she refuses to tow the party line — but sadly the whole movie rings hollow.
'Changeling' opens today in wide release.