Changeling (2008)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2008 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)

The last time Angelina Jolie did a stint in the loony bin she wound up winning an Oscar for her pains (Best Supporting Actress for "Girl, Interrupted") and I daresay that realization wasn't far from her mind when she opted to star in Clint Eastwood's latest film "Changeling," a period drama about a single mom who's unceremoniously institutionalized by the L.A.P.D. when her 9-year-old son goes missing, shows up five months later, and is denounced by Christine Collins (Jolie) as not being her son. This happens after Collins takes "Walter" home, for a "trial period," while the flashbulbs burst and the Police Department, who supposedly found the boy in Dekalb, Ill., spat and polished up their tarnished reputation. The story (by J. Michael Straczynski) is an earnest one, leading to one of the most despicable crimes in the annals of American history (serial killer Gordon Stewart Northcott figures in the latter going) but the film is an odd mix of genres that never quite settles into the one we want to watch. Jolie is suitably distraught and outraged in equal amounts and her experience in "'Interrupted" has stood her in good stead to play the bughouse scenes with conviction. But the film is undone by a surprising laziness on Clint's part, who telegraphs too much too often and constantly gussies Jolie up no matter what her situation (those famous lips are never anything but bright cherry red and you wonder why her character feels the need to look mahvelous so much of the time). Although inspired by true events (the Wineville Chicken Murders), the central conceit in the film--that a doppelganger could dupe an individual's teachers, doctors, and peers--make "Changeling" a pretty preposterous pill to swallow (one administered forcefully, at the hands of brutal, one-dimensional prison guards).

David N. Butterworth
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