Changeling (aka Law and Order starring Angelina Jolie)

changelingOkay. Changeling hasn’t gotten universally positive reviews. And even though I thought the film was riveting, I can kind of see why. Here’s a film that was marketed as this dark mystery. Well there are certainly mysterious things that happen in the film that make the viewer think, “Hmm. What’s up with that?” and “I wonder how that’s going to turn out.” But the film focuses on an actual kidnapping case that is more or less solved with a lot of the film remaining. If one expects what the trailers promise–a taut thriller–one will be disappointed. Changeling more or less follows the structure of Law and Order: the crime is solved, and then we move to the courts where everything is resolved one way or another.

If, however, one goes into the film expecting a dramatization of the real life kidnapping of Walter Collins, one will be delighted. And here’s why. Clint Eastwood made a damn fine film. The real life story is so incredibly appalling, and takes so many bizarre twists and turns, that a film based on it, almost necessarily, seems to go in too many different directions. In fact, if the story didn’t have basis in reality, it would almost be unbelievable.  But knowing that this stuff (more or less) really happened, it’s fairly appalling, and it’s pretty tough to look away.

It’s also pretty tough to look. I’m glad I saw it. But I won’t ever watch it again–not because it’s bad, but because it makes me feel uncomfortable in the same way that Sherry Baby and Monster did. Along with those two films, Changeling left me wondering exactly what kind of crap world we live in, Monster and Changeling especially, because they’re both based on real events.

And Angelina Jolie is the reason this film is so hard to watch. A viewer could walk into this film having never thought about what it would feel like to lose a child, but it would be pretty hard to walk out without having gleaned the horror of it from Jolie’s performance. She’s angry, helpless, frantic, and completely bared and vulnerable. As her deep frustration grows, so did mine. It’s difficult not to go through this ordeal alongside her. Director Clint Eastwood deserves some of the credit of course, but Jolie once again proves that she’s far more than a pretty face.

I have two gripes with the film. The first is with LAPD Captain JJ Jones, played by Jeffrey Donovan. My gripe is on two levels. First, I don’t think the guy is a very talented actor. I watch his show Burn Notice, but more for the ancillary characters played by Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, and Sharon Gless. In fact, the first few episodes I watched, I fairly well hated the wooden Donovan. He’s grown on me in the context of the show. But in this film, he has this wildly vacillating Irish accent (well Irish is my best guess) and he’s stiff as a board. Which I might buy if I hadn’t seen him already playing stiff board in something else. But in addition to Donovan’s annoying performance, the character of the Captain is fairly one-dimensional as well. It’s difficult to beleive the real life guy was as much of a complete slime as this film suggests. Perhaps he was. I’m not going to say it’s impossible. But just one small indicator that this character has some small vestige of a soul would have been nice.

The second is that you’ll leave the film questioning the motives of some of the key players and wondering what exactly happened. The film doesn’t tell you. And there are plenty of possibilities to mull over.  The curious can easily discover what happened, but that’s extra work, and I already paid nine bucks and spent two and a half hours watching this thing. I don’t think I should have homework.

But, gripes aside, I highly recommend Changeling. In addition to the kidnapping plot, it shines a light on LAPD corruption, along with some of the indignities faced by women early in the last century.  Superior supporting performances by Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner, and Michael Kelley round out this compelling historical drama. Don’t miss it!