Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changeling

I love me some Clint Eastwood. Acting, sure. An archetype. But behind the camera? Awesome.

Also, the guy is 78 and has two movies in the hopper, one of which he’s directing and starring–as the tough guy! WTF, man. I’m such a freakin’ slacker.

Anyway, what I love about Eastwood is that he always hits the universal themes while telling a specific story. For example, some people got upset about Million Dollar Baby, as if it were pro-euthanasia. I say they’re taking too broad a view: Million Dollar Baby isn’t pro-euthanasia, it’s pro-euthanasia, if you have the opportunity to kill Hilary Swank.

Actually, to focus on the euthanasia is to miss the point of the movie. And Eastwood’s movies don’t really lend themselves to generalizing. They tell a specific story in a very convincing fashion, and they don’t skimp on the atmosphere or the research. (That’s why Spike Lee’s accusations about Flags of our Father struck me as such naked self-promotion.) You could see why Eastwood’s character does what he does in Baby. Even if you didn’t agree with it, it was true.

Let me throw some roses here on the much maligned Flags of our Fathers. I liked it–more than most apparently–because it was a naked look at the costs and value of propaganda. And how some soldiers give more than their lives.

And now we come to Changeling, the story of a woman whose son is kidnapped in 1928 Los Angeles, and an impostor returned to her by a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department.

You know, you see Eastwood’s name on a picture, you expect someone to be blown away with a .357. But no dice.

You see J. Michael Straczynski’s name you expect a Narn or at least a cameo by He-Man. Strangely, neither makes an appearance.

But you do get an interesting profile of the abuse of power 80 years ago. Most fascinating is the continued assertion to the mother that the impostor really is hers, and she’s just crazy, obstinate or enjoyed her freedom too much.

The icing on the cake is the “Code 12”, which allows the cops to commit anyone to the L.A. Psycho Ward. They get special treatment there, too, which involves signing waivers to exonerate the police.

Did I mention this is a true story? And not a fake-true story either.

So, whomever is elected tomorrow, and whomever was elected a few years ago, keep in mind that things are pretty much better now. (I’m not saying this doesn’t happen anymore, but at least it requires more effort.)

This is the Angelina Jolie show and I have to say, despite the emphasis of some critics, she pretty well vanishes into the role. She’s scrawny, worn out, washed out–and that’s before her son gets kidnapped. I’m not joking; very little of her beauty is in evidence, she turns the glamour and sex appeal off completely, and even when she fights back, it’s more a quiet, demure determination than a Lara Croft-esque feistiness.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I can now say I’ve seen Angelina Jolie in a good film!

It’s not great, I don’t think. It’s worth a second view for sure. It lacks a big payoff, though it’s remarkable how much suspense there is, as far as whether or not the boy is ever going to return. In fact, the movie goes on past the climax for quite some time where you really get a sense of the alternating hope and despair of a mother missing her child.

Oddly, though, I didn’t tear up or anything like that, and I’m usually a sucker for this sort of thing.

So, what else can you expect? A stunning recreation of L.A. in 1928 (and 1935). Wonderful cinematography and expert pacing. Excellent acting rounded out with John Malkovich (as a corruption fighting preacher), relative unknown Jason Butler Harner as the child dismembering psycho, and especially Jeffrey Donovan as Captain J. J. Jones, the arrogant and corrupt officer who sacrifices a distraught mother to save himself from ridicule. Oh, and Michael Kelly as the cop whose horror over child-murdering exceeds his concern for the department’s reputation.

And, okay, in the psycho ward, there was this nurse. If they remake Cuckoo’s Nest they could put her in the Louise Fletcher role. I mean, seriously, check out her IMDB photo. She looks only half-evil there, and probably isn’t even trying. She looks pretty much 100% evil when she’s administering shock treatment. Note that the actress, Riki Lindhome, also looks like Eastwood’s “type” (Sandra Locke, Frances Fisher) and was in Million Dollar Baby.

This a propos of nothing, but it’s the sort of thing your mind picks out when you watch too many movies. Another thing your mind picks out is that they used the phrase “serial killer” once in a voice-over. But that phrase didn’t exist in 1930. A detail, but one that leapt out at me.

The 2:20 pretty well flies by and I have to admit JMS has written a solid screenplay.

The Boy also approved, though he didn’t seem wowed.

And now back to trying to accomplish in the remaining decades of my life a fraction of what Eastwood has planned for the next 24 months…..

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