November 12, 2008 by Zack
One of the things I admire most about Clint Eastwood is his approach to films as an actor, and a director. As an actor, even in his most explosive roles such as Dirty Harry, he doesn’t go over the top. As a director, he mimics this by drawing a picture but not always filling in all of the colors. He knows how to shoot a film, and he knows how to let his actors tell the story while he sits back and lets the cameras roll. He did this masterfully with “Mystic River”.
He did not with “Changeling”.
A film that boasts a story that is so bizarre it has to be true (and is), it plays out at first in a typical Eastwood way–it’s very quiet, and subtle. The film goes into some subplots that eventually come to the precipice–the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop Murders of the late 20’s, that are linked to the very seemingly simple story of the abduction of Christine Collins’ son, Walter. Collins, played wonderfully by Angelina Jolie (who will win the Oscar for Best Actress–book it), is a strong willed woman who takes on the entire LAPD after her “son” is returned to her while the LAPD is suffering through a very bad reputation of being bloodthirsty cretins. The boy they return to her is not her son, and they go to extreme lengths to make her believe that it is. In fact, such extreme lengths that at times, this movie will bring out the emotion in you. There were a lot of tears in the audience.
But as powerful as the film begins, around the two hour mark, it loses it. It loses it because it starts to tell you how to feel about it instead of letting you feel it. There is nothing worse to me than a film spending 20 minutes on a courtroom scene, unless the film is a courtroom drama. I distinctly remember “Sleepers” suffering the same fate. The problem is you have already gone through this emotional turmoil with the lead character–now you’re going to have to sit and watch a lawyer tell you exactly why you are feeling these things. Is that really necessary? I’m going to answer my own question and say it is not. And by answering that question I’m doing exactly what the movie did that was wrong–and that’s beat you over the head with what I’m getting at.
And what’s most disappointing is, that’s not Eastwood’s style mostly. I know the script, written by J. Michael Straczynski, was a little more at fault because it had no theme whatsoever, and no real narrative past the second act. The film, which is so much more compelling as a drama about a woman wanting her own son back, becomes a very boring newsclipping trying to sew up all the events that took place during the entire ordeal.
Now, I have no problem with a film wanting to tell the whole story. That’s fine. But if it loses its dramatic edge in the process, you have to wonder if it needs to be filmed that way, or if it needs to be scrapped. Or changed in some way.
Don’t get me wrong–the true events of this story are absolutely chilling and powerful, but since Jolie is so remarkable in it, the story should be able to breathe on its own without Eastwood putting an oxygen mask over it to tell us how to feel. That’s usually what Spielberg does, which was why “Munich” fell apart in its third act.
The movie is two hours and twenty minutes and should have been a half hour shorter. It would have been a real contender for Best Picture had it shaved off a lot of scenes towards the end that, while telling the rest of the story, did nothing to affect you emotionally. It leaves you feeling as empty as poor Christine who looks at a boy that isn’t her son, and is forced to admit that he is.
It’s just not right. And it’s a pity.