Sunday, February 08, 2009

Movie Review: Changeling


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Clint Eastwood has to be one of the best directors in Hollywood and his Changeling confirms his position with one of his best directorial efforts to date — and he's nearly 80 years old! Changeling is one of the best movies of 2009 so far — up there with Doubt. What makes Changeling so fascinating is that it is a true story.

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a single mother living in 1920s Los Angeles who comes home from work one day to find her son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith) missing. She anxiously walks the neighbourhood looking for him and, when she cannot find him, rings the police. They tell her that it is not their policy to respond to missing children for 24 hours because most of them return home. But Walter doesn't come home.

After months of extensive searching by the police, Walter is found and returned to his mother. But something is wrong and Christine claims that the boy is not really her son. Thus begins a long, uphill battle with the LAPD who vilify Christine as being delusional and a mother who is unfit.  Christine's long battle to find her son, with help from an ally in Reverend Gustav Briegleb, is heart-rending, confronting, and ultimately inspiring.

Angelina Jolie, who was chosen by Clint Eastwood because her face suited the period, is superb as Christine Collins. This may be her best role ever and we see, once again, that she can truly act. Clint Eastwood approaches the narrative with restrained simplicity. But the story is so engaging and intriguing that nothing more is needed.

Changeling transcends mere narrative as it explores the disempowerment of women at the time, police corruption, the power of labelling someone mentally ill, and the nature of closed systems of belief that have the ability to rationalize all evidence that may question the status quo.

It is this last element that particularly interests me about this film. A closed ideological system is one which, no matter what evidence is presented contrary to what is believed, it can be rationalised away. One famous example of this is Sigmund Freud's notion of resistance during therapy. If he suggested to a patient that they had problems with their father, for instance, and the patient resisted this interpretation, then Freud argued that the fact of resistance proved that the explanation was correct. In a situation like this, it is impossible to prove anything to the contrary.

Many religious systems are the same. Any evidence provided against the beliefs of the system are themselves considered evidence that the person raising them is evil and a fulfillment of "prophecies" that those beliefs would be attacked.

Changeling is not directly concerned with such issues. But the events of this story do provoke such considerations — along with many others. The story is simple but extremely evocative.

Changeling is a must-see movie that will leave you speechless at the way people think and behave. Be warned: it has some very disturbing material. But overall, it is a movie that is very enjoyable to watch. It's a powerful story powerfully told. Don't miss it!


Positive Review
'A disturbing film about grim subject matter, but the overall experience is more exhilarating than saddening. There's just something satisfying about seeing a movie so well made.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review
'J. Michael Straczynski's disjointed script manages to ring false at almost every significant turn (Collins' psychiatric-hospital stay has grown into a latter-day version of "The Snake Pit") and Clint Eastwood's ponderous direction -- a disheartening departure from his sure touch in "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "The Bridges of Madison County" -- magnifies the flaws.' - Joe Morgenstern/Wall Street Journal

Content Advice
Some violent and disturbing content, and language

AUS: MA15+

... more movies to see ...

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
The third in the Underworld vampire/werewolf series. Doesn't equal the first two but is somewhat entertaining. Don't bother unless you have seen the first two and really want to keep in touch with the series.

A superb movie about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US and who is assassinated. Sean Penn is absolutely incredible as Harvey Milk.

The true story of one of the plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler orchestrated by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). A riveting thriller even though we know the ending. Tom Cruise is excellent in his role. It is good to know that, even in the darkest hours of earth's history, people were prepared to sacrifice their lives for good.

The Wrestler
An over-rated movie about an ageing wrestler who has nothing to live for but his wrestling. He is given the opportunity to fight a former nemesis. But, following a heart attack, he is told by his doctor not to fight anymore. But he decides to anyway so that he can connect with the only family he has — his fans. Mickey Rourke in his role as the wrestler is the best aspect of the movie.

The Spirit
Another comic superhero adaptation that is almost unbearable to watch. It is boring, lifeless, and I can't understand why great actors like Scarlett Johansson or Samuel Jackson would want to be involved. Give it a miss.

Gran Torino
An entertaining story about Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), an ageing, racist, misogynist ex-Korean soldier, whose wife dies and who has a family of Asian immigrants move in next door. When one of the boys is threatened by a local gang, Walt becomes the neighbourhood protector. Ok movie, but very wooden acting and doesn't live up to the hype.

Revolutionary Road
Sees the reuniting of Kate Winslett and Leonardo diCaprio who play a married couple whose relationship disintegrates as they try to live up to social expectations of the American dream. Interesting and thought-provoking, but I found the first half a bit inauthentic. Worth a look.

The Kite Runner (DVD)
An excellent, inspirational story of a Afghan man who returns to Afghanistan to deal with the ghosts of his past — in particular, his treatment of a friend who has died. Great movie!

Pathology (DVD)
A bizarre horror movie about a new intern pathologist who is drawn into a group of colleagues who try to work out ways of killing people that the others can't detect or work out. Very gory and most definitely not for everyone!

Standard Operating Procedure (DVD)
A compelling documentary about the abuse and torture of suspected terrorists by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison (remember the photos?). A timely reminder of how normal people can find themselves doing unethical things.

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