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Lincoln Heights Confidential

May 17th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Changeling 2008 poster Changeling 2008 DVD

Changeling (2008)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz
141 minutes

Marketed as more than just “based on a true story” but actually “a true story”, there’s a great piece of pulp fiction lurking beneath Changeling, a breathtaking recreation of early 20th century Los Angeles and a journey down a dark passage almost too lurid to support the claims of its advertising. That’s the dilemma of this highly touted spec script by J. Michael Straczynski, a career TV writer who was tipped off by a source at City Hall about a long forgotten case of a missing child and massive civic corruption. Ron Howard was eager to direct, until Frost/Nixon caught his attention. Howard’s name on the credits certainly doesn’t buy much critical cache these days, but as directed by Clint Eastwood, Changeling has a jeweler’s eye for historical detail and a rough edge that recalls James Ellroy, not Lifetime Television For Women.

Changeling moves through Los Angeles of yore by street car, where LAPD gun squads mowed through organized crime and women who threatened the department ended up branded as hysterical at best and in mental hospitals at worst. The drama is put into motion by a mass murder so gruesome it might have made Robert Stack piss himself, prime real estate for film noir, but promoted as a true life drama, the film’s intentions seems confused. The cast is superb, with Angelina Jolie’s exquisite features giving a silent film performance in a talkie and Amy Ryan doing work as her two-fisted friend. Unlike L.A. Confidential, the characters are unable to shake themselves out of the rigors of plot, but the fact that Eastwood chalks the sights and feelings of that noir classic so convincingly makes it worth visiting.

31 Days of Eastwood

On March 10, 1928 in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is called to cover a shift at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, postponing an afternoon with her 9-year-old son Walter (Gatlin Griffith). Returning home to find Walter missing, Christine is unable to marshal the full resources of the LAPD, which according to the weekly radio address of a pastor at St. Paul’s Presbyterian named Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) ranks as “the most violent, corrupt and incompetent police department this side of the Rocky Mountains”. In July, police captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) notifies Christine that her son has been found alive in Illinois. With the press in attendance as mother and son are reunited at Union Station, Christine does not recognize the boy who gets off the train to be Walter.

Despite assertions by Capt. Jones that Walter’s appearance may have changed due to his ordeal, neither Christine nor her son’s dentist or schoolteacher believe him to be the same boy. When she refuses to accept the LAPD’s conclusion and takes her story public, Jones has Christine interned at a psychiatric hospital. There, a prostitute (Amy Ryan) reveals that most of the women have been committed to keep them from making trouble for the beleaguered LAPD for one reason or another. While Briegleb and powerful attorney S.S. Hahn (Geoff Pierson) rally to her defense, Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) begins to unravel the ghoulish case of rancher Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) who appears to have kidnapped and murdered up to 20 boys before fleeing to Canada. Once captured, Northcott remains dubious as to whether or not Walter was one of his victims.

Changeling 2008

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie Gattlin Griffith

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie

Changeling 2008 Jeffrey Donovan

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie Devon Conti

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie

Changeling 2008

Changeling 2008 John Malkovich Angelina Jolie

Changeling 2008 Angelina Jolie

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 191 users: 61% for Changeling

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 63 for Changeling

What do you say?

Tags: Bathtub scene · Crooked officer · Forensic evidence · Interrogation · Mother/son relationship · Murder mystery · No opening credits · Paranoia · Prostitute · Psycho killer · Psychoanalysis · Train

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // May 17, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Rachel & I went to see this with rather high expectations. We were underwhelmed (to say the least). It wasn’t a BAD movie, it just wasn’t worth 141 minutes if our time. Yes, it looked good and, yes, Amy Ryan was great, but other than that, I would not recommend it.

  • 2 J.D. // May 17, 2010 at 7:20 am

    I was surprised at how much I liked this film and how much it affected me. Good call on the Ellroy connection. It does have that vibe of one of his books. Jolie was also excellent too – one of her really good performances, a rarity in recent years. I think she is one of those actresses that needs a strong director to really challenge her and Eastwood certainly did that.

  • 3 Jeff // May 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I saw this for the first time a couple of months ago, and overall was also pleasantly surprised. For me, the movie’s greatest success was evoking the Los Angeles of that era. I thought Jolie was good, but I was disappointed in the performance of Jeffrey Donovan, particularly after seeing what he is capable of on “Burn Notice.” The asylum scenes didn’t work for me as much as the scenes with the detectives doggedly trying to figure out what happened on the horrific ranch.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // May 17, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Monica: I think the reaction you and Rachel had mirrors most of the reviews I read for Changeling. As a result, my expectations when I got around to watching it two years later were not very steep. I was pleasantly surprised. The characters don’t peek out from the plot until very late in the film, but I was compelled nonetheless. Thanks for commenting!

    J.D.: Nick Nolte gave Ewan McGregor some career advice on the set of Nightwatch: “It’s okay to lie down and be a whore for a little while, but don’t ever forget where you came from.” While Jolie studied acting as a teen, I’m not sure how long she struggled as a working actor and how much of that period she’d like to remember. I agree with you that since winning an Oscar for Girl Interrupted, she’s done too many cartoon voiceovers and spy babe roles in movies that were bad for no reason. Changeling was a quality project for her to take a break with. Thanks for commenting!

    Jeff: Thanks for stopping by and reminding me where I’d seen Jeffrey Donovan. Eastwood’s films are so well cast, with faces that for the most part, haven’t appeared in any of his previous films, a rarity for directors who find it easier to work with the same company over and over. I was so happy to see Amy Ryan in this movie looking nothing like she did in Gone Baby Gone, while Michael Kelly was terrific as the one decent cop on the LAPD.

  • 5 Yojimbo_5 // May 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Glad you liked Michael Kelly as much as I did. I think he may become a break-out actor. Also, the kid in the interrogation scene with Kelly was amazing.

    The film itself is a “Changeling,” starting as a woman-in-peril picture and turning into the story of a crime so horrific, the town it happened in had to change its name—the forgotten crime, hushed up, and thus give a lie to the illusion of “the good old days.” Try and sell that to the ticket-buying public.

    Eastwood didn’t change the first-draft script, which shocked the screenwriter. The director saw quality on the page and wanted to film it that way.

    Very impressed with the movie, and Eastwood’s direction.

  • 6 Flickhead // May 18, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Angie’s God.

    Even on roller skates.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // May 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Jim: I believe time will be kind to this picture. Ron Howard and the way this movie was marketed — as a true life story of a woman battling the odds, like A Beautiful Mind or something — did the audience no favors. Actors working for Clint Eastwood are like technicians working for Tim Burton; it’s a privilege and everyone seems to bring their A-games. Thanks for commenting!

    Ray: To your point I do think my criticisms of Jolie’s career would end if I ever had to sit in on a meeting with her and my words would turn to boiling oats.

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