During the lousiest parts of Changeling–easily identifiable by Jeffrey Donovan’s increased presence–there should be a disclaimer running across the bottom of the screen: “It doesn’t stay this bad… promise.”
Changeling is the worst film Clint Eastwood’s made in years. It’s easily the worst of his serious films–afterwards, I realized his last film before this one was Letters from Iwo Jima, which is stunning. One film’s an artistic expression, the other is the most over-produced Oscar bait I’ve sat through in a long time.
Eastwood’s never been a director-for-hire, but maybe Changeling signals some kind of a change. There’s absolutely no personality to this film. Eastwood’s direction, his composition, is impeccable. His musical score, fantastic. It looks great. But it’s empty. True stories aren’t good because they’re true–and true stories meant to win Angelina Jolie her coveted Best Actress statuette–vehicles for highly paid actresses who don’t necessarily bring in the box office dollars… they’re the worst kind of true stories.
Eastwood does find material in Changeling he’s interested in, but none of it features Jolie. Once he gets done with the fetishistic approach to daily life in 1928, he’s done with her. There are occasional moments of interest, like when John Malkovich shows up, but there are also terrible stretches. The film’s interesting moments are the discovery of a crime, when Michael Kelly’s the protagonist. Kelly’s great in the film, one of the best performances, and he gets the entirely un-Academy part of enabling the discovery of truth. The Oscar desperate moments feature–really–Amy Ryan as a hooker with a heart of gold who gets ECT just to show off her twenty-four karats.
I don’t fault Ryan for taking the role–I’m sure it came with assurances of a Best Supporting campaign and all–but Clint Eastwood making a film so desperate to win Oscars it brings in a ringer? It’s painful to watch.
Jolie’s fine in the lead. She’s never great and never terrible. Her despair is believable (because it’s Angelina Jolie and we know she’s a mother), which is about all the role calls for. The most interesting parts of her character–going back to work while her son is missing, digging a little on her bald boss–are never explored. They wouldn’t look good in that Best Actress reel.
Malkovich is utterly solid in a role with nothing for him to do. It’s technically the second biggest role and I guess they needed another name for the poster. Jason Butler Harner and Eddie Alderson are both great, so is Geoffrey Pierson.
When I heard about Changeling, I thought the biggest problem would be J. Michael Straczynski’s script and I was right. The dialogue’s fine–never particularly good–and the plotting is okay. It’s boring, but okay. But Straczynski’s approach to characters might actually be Changeling‘s place in cinematic history (in addition to being a blot on Eastwood’s filmography). Straczynski’s characters are entirely one-note–every last one of them–and it exemplifies the difference between one-dimensional bad guys and one-dimensional good guys. The bad guys are unbelievable. The good guys… it’s sort of assumed they’re not always being white knights. But the bad guys? Donovan’s performance is atrocious–it’s one of the worst I can remember seeing in a film from such a good director–but his character is idiotic too. The guy’s always bad. Compared to Donovan’s cop, Milton treated the serpent like Mickey Mouse. It makes the film excruciating for long stretches.
I can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood would have made this movie. Sure, he got a bigger budget than usual and an interesting setting, but it’s crap. It’s well-made crap, but I felt embarrassed watching it. Worse, I felt bad for Eastwood… Changeling is the kind of malarky Ron Howard makes now, not Clint Eastwood.
And look who produced it.
Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by J. Michael Straczynski; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Eastwood; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Robert Lorenz; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Angelina Jolie (Christine Collins), John Malkovich (Reverand Briegleb), Jeffrey Donovan (Captain J.J. Jones), Michael Kelly (Detective Ybarra), Colm Feore (Chief Davis), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Stewart Northcott), Amy Ryan (Carol Dexter), Geoff Pierson (Hahn), Denis O’Hare (Dr. Steele), Frank Wood (Ben Harris), Peter Gerety (Dr. Tarr), Gattlin Griffith (Walter Collins) and Devon Conti (Arthur Hutchins).