Director: Clint Eastwood
Cinematographer: Tom Stern
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
by Jon Cvack
This movie didn’t sound all that great when it first came out. It still only has a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, which means it’s barely passing bearable, but I don’t really understand the logic given IMDb’s 7.8, which seems a more appropriate number. Clint Eastwood had just come off a stellar turnout of Oscar winning films in near record time with Mystic River ('03), Million Dollar Baby ('04), Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima ('06), and two years later provides this nearly 2.5 hour film, which is great, but not nearly as great as most of those films, though much better than it was received at the time. I suspect it was a case of diminishing returns, in which the bar was upped again and again, and there was no way for Changeling to hit it (though if it was 45 minutes shorter there could have been a chance, or if the amount of times the phrase ‘my son’ was uttered throughout the film was cut by 90%, it could have worked better).
I didn’t know much about the story other than the period setting, which I thought was the 1950s, but was actually the 1920s. Based on a true story, Christine Collins (Angela Jolie) loses her baby one night, and when he finally returns after five months, she discovers that the police returned the wrong kid. With the LAPD’s corruption still running rampant, and its image on the line, Police Chief J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) coerces Collins into accepting the wrong child, posing for the press, expressing her gratitude, and then taking the child home. The story is right up Eastwood’s alley, exploring a true to life Kafka nightmare, in which some who disagree are forced into a mental institution without a warrant, with no contact allowed with the outside world, interacting solely with the corrupt and abusive staff. The situation is terrifying in its simplicity - act too happy and they think you’re absolutely removed from the situation; too sad and they think you’re depressed; too neutral and you’re considered indifference and dangerous. In one of the films most brilliant scenes, Christine talks to the doctor who expertly maneuvers the conversation any way he wants in order to defend his actions.
True to Eastwood’s philosophy, this is very much a terrifying portrayal of what big government can result in. Having come from Chicago and hearing and witnessing the endless corruption, whose ancestral government was once controlled by Al Capone, it was difficult to not see the parallels. It’s that age old story of having nowhere and no one to turn to, except it actually occurred. To be unable to trust those who are suppose to protect, with absolutely no alternative, is a frightening possibility to consider, and with many from the black community presently feeling marginalized, perhaps we haven’t made as much progress as you’d initially think. Ferguson showed us that there is still dirt out there. We’ve dug into examining how they deal with race and opened up maggot-infested waste piles that prove what so many had suspected. I support the police, but they are not immune to corruption, and it is a far greater injustice for officers to stay quiet amidst wrongdoing than for civilians, as they are to reflect the epitome of justice. For Sandra Bland or Freddie Gray, who knows what happened behind those doors where corruption has been historically common. Individuals can point to the black community and criticize their refusal to protest inter-community violence, but can’t the same be said for cops, some of whom participate in an unspoken oath to stick up for one another, even if it’s wrong? For this to extend beyond police, and into governmental health care is where it really becomes a true nightmare. I think of all the staff in the hospital. When these women were begging for help they just didn’t care - perhaps for their jobs, because they were scared, who knows. It won’t be the last time something like this is revealed. Some place, somewhere it is still going on. Eastwood shows his old school Republicanism in Changeling, and it's pretty fascinating.
BELOW: Not as good as in the hospital (which I can't find), but similarly manipulative and terrifying
Thoughts on films, old and new
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