Changeling - DVD Review

'Changeling gives a much more human view to the personal tragedies the political manoeuvring within the LAPD created'

Angelina Jolie is, rightly in my opinion, classed as one of the most interesting actresses in Hollywood for a number of reasons but mainly for her decision-making when it comes to choosing her roles. Take her 2007 output for example. It started with Beowulf, a blockbuster that was largely regarded as a disaster, both in terms of its revenue haul and the general critical flogging it received just prior to its release but then finished with A Mighty Heart, largely regarded as Jolie’s best ever performance. These sort of contrasts continue all the way down her filmography – A Good Shephard, for example, aspired to lofty heights but just previous to this we had Mr and Mrs Smith, which didn’t. Girl, Interrupted is not a great film but does feature a great Jolie performance which can’t be said for her follow-ups; Gone in 60 Seconds and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

And so 2008 started with the amusing but certainly ‘different’ Kung-Fu Panda then moved on to Wanted which had some success and acclaim but in my opinion was another Bekmambatov mash-up of style over substance featuring un-inspired direction and a woeful re-plotting of the source material and then concluded with Changeling. Which is, in short, brilliant.

Until listening to the Kermode and Mayo podcast (search for it on itunes, brilliant stuff) I wasn’t aware Changeling was a true story but the film does educate you to this effect in the opening titles. Normally this would set off alarm bells but there’s something about Clint Eastwood’s movies that just makes you trust him and them.

The events in Changeling are horrific and compelling in equal measure and the film largely uses Jolie’s Christine Collins to examine the wider problem of a by this time utterly corrupt Los Angeles police force. We’ve been here before, notably in LA Confidential but Changeling gives a much more human view to the personal tragedies the political manoeuvring within the LAPD created.

And the main human tragedy in the film is an absolutely fantastic Jolie who creates an eminently sympathetic heroine in Collins and her interactions, first with her son and then with what can only be described as his ‘replacement’. Come the conclusion, when some harsh events and confrontations come to the fore you are absolutely with Collins, feeling every harsh decision and conversation she has. All her reactions are understandable and justifiable and rarely have I recently felt so moved by a character in a final third which was completely un-expected and all the more horrific for its truth.

There are small downsides to Eastwood’s approach mainly in the fact that some interesting side characters get rather left out. The Wire’s Amy Ryan for example gets a self-whispered history which sounds as un-just as Jolie’s character, but she only appears in a couple of scenes and disappears without a trace. Similarly we’re told in the epilogue that John Malkovich’s Reverend Gustav ‘battled police corruption’ all his life, but we see very little of this save for his interactions with and on behalf of Collins.

These are minor points however, and there can be no doubt that Changeling is a resounding success. For me it stands up there with anything Eastwood has produced and is easily one of my favourite films of last year.

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