The movie well is pretty dry, as it tends to be mid-summer, if you’re not into loud, obnoxious and dumb. And I’m actually into any two of those, but all three at once sort of turns me off. Anyway, the upshot is that we ended up seeing a movie called The Chameleon which has two cuts: One which is apparently crap, and one which is apparently good.
We, of course, didn’t know which cut it was. But I hope it was the bad one.
The premise is intriguing, and based (very loosely) on a real events: A missing Louisiana child turns up four years later. Only looking a lot more than four years older. And having a (Continental) French accent. And just generally not seeming much like the missing child.
The family with the missing child is apartment and trailer dwellers, so there’s no monetary motivation for him to lie. They’re also seriously dysfunctional, with a con half-brother and a half-in-the-bag mother (played by a very anti-glammed Ellen Barkin). On the other side, you have to wonder why any family would pretend that an impostor was their missing son.
So, you have a mystery. And one that’s irritating the crap out of an FBI agent (Famke Janssen), who pursues the situation when no one else cares to.
The con half-bother (Nick Stahl) also seems to be constantly on the verge of killing the kid (Marc-André Grondin) which gives the movie a kind of a thriller aspect to it.
In fact, it was the mystery/thriller aspect that inclined me to take a shot at this flick, but it really fails at both. (Or the cut I saw did, and frankly, I don’t know enough about French director Jean-Paul Salomé to vouch for him.) The problem is, the mystery comes from murky motivations. What happens doesn’t entirely make sense from any point of view apart from a sort of surreal, highly emotional one.
The Boy and I were trying to figure out who the main character was, with no success. The only real possibilities are the kid, the mother or the FBI agent. The kid and the mother form a bond, and the former has a sort of character arc, but it’s a very strange and muted one. The FBI agent doesn’t really have a character arc.
It’s one of those movies that seems more like a series of events than a focused narrative. That makes it sort of listless, despite the rather interesting subject matter. It comes off sort of like an episode of “The Closer”, except “The Closer” is a pretty tight show with better production values. And less on-screen drug use, I guess.
The most compelling drama is between the kid and the mother, but their moments seem sort of stilted. Janssen’s character has some real depth, and since she’s in less awkward situations, her character is revealed in ways that seem more natural. They also tried de-glamming her, but it didn’t really take.
I think, sometimes, if you’re doing a “ripped from the headlines” type story, you have some obligation to the truth, and that can tie your hands, dramatically speaking. But that presumes you’re trying to stay true to life, which I think was pretty secondary here.
If you’re not, you should go to town and do whatever it takes to make an artistically satisfying film, facts be damned. I think this movie wasn’t concerned with the actuality, at least as production wore on (if ever), but they didn’t cut loose and give us either a good mystery or a good thriller. And in the long run, aspersions were cast. Cast, slung and sprayed all over the damn place.
The Boy and I were not impressed, and we couldn’t recommend what we saw. I’m suspicious how much better another cut could be, though. The flaws seemed to be structural. Thinking about it, while the audience does not know what’s going on, the film’s characters pretty much all have to. The exception is the FBI agent, of course, and if the movie had gone from her perspective the whole time, you might have had something.
As it is, it’s just us trying to figure out what’s going on and the movie basically refusing to tell us. There is a scenario strongly suggested throughout most of the movie, which then seems to be potentially refuted by the last scenes. And without any particular suspense, really.
So, view at your own peril (as always).