Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I doubt that Mr. Clint Eastwood would actually do this since he’s probably not interested in taking career advice from me, particularly since he has no idea that I even exist, but after watching his film ‘Changeling’ he should ponder directing a horror movie. He’s kind of done it already with ‘Play Misty for Me’ but he made that movie way before he mastered this whole film directing thing. Though ‘Changeling’ is a pure dramatic piece it does have a sprinkle of horror elements strewn within its rather lengthy running time which got me to thinking, which is never good for anybody. Considering that most of Mr. Eastwood’s recent films have already been bitterly dark and depressing, and taking into account his unparalleled ability to manipulate an audience, I’m thinking if he just went full out horror for a movie it would be the best horror flick anybody’s seen in years. I betcha. The master’s ability to manipulate has never been more evident in this film ‘Changeling’ which only the most jaded amongst us will be able to watch without some feeling of complete helpless anger.

Angelina Jolie is Christina Collins, a young woman in 1920’s Los Angeles with a good job, a cute little bungalow and a precocious nine year old boy named Walter (Gattlin Griffiths). One day Christina is called unexpectedly away to work and when she gets home Walter is no where to be found. She calls the LAPD, which we are led to believe has been incompetent and corrupt since their inception, and they tell her he’s probably just out playing and he’ll be home in no time.

Months pass and still no Walter. A local pastor, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) who at the time has been mounting a campaign against the corruption in the ranks of the LAPD takes an interest in Christine’s case. This interest spurs some action on the part of Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the officer in charge of the case who finally finds the boy. Or a boy I guess we should say. Christine’s joy quickly turns to shock when the boy they return to her obviously isn’t her son. The officers in charge inform her that five months is a long time, children change, they shrink, they magically become circumcised and she’s just a bad mother attempting to shirk her motherly duties and as such should be locked away in a crazy ward. For real, that’s what they say.

So while Christine is in an insane asylum being force fed tranquilizers and being prepped for electric shock treatment, there’s a lunatic a few miles up the road named Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) kidnapping little boys and slaughtering them. Not cool. Soon to be dubbed the Wineville Chicken coop murderer, because he kept his prey in a chicken coop in the city of Wineville, a boy that Northcott forced to help him commit these crimes pointed out little Walter as one of his victims.

Eventually Christine escapes her unjustly enforced bondage and with the reverends help she proceeds to do battle and force changes within the corrupt police department while never fully accepting the probability her son was one of Northcott’s twenty plus victims, hoping one day Walter will make it back home.

Even though I wouldn’t say that ‘Changeling’ is among Mr. Eastwood’s all time best movies it is still a very fine film. The setting and atmosphere that has been recreated feels flawless to me, of course one has to take that with a grain of salt since I wasn’t hanging around 1920’s America. Angelina Jolie gives yet another fine performance, one which garnered her an Academy Award nomination which I should also inform you means absolutely nothing to me, though at times it did border on the unrealistically melodramatic, particularly the scenes in which she faces off with the man suspected of murdering her son. I know creative liberties are taken in these ‘based on true story’ type films but I had a difficult time buying that this could realistically take place no matter what the time period. Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore as the police chief and Denis O’Hare as the loony bin doctor form an unholy trinity of evil that in ways seems even worse than Jason Butler Harner’s child serial killer. Special mention for young Eddie Alberson who as Northcott’ unwilling child assistant Sanford Clark delivered about as painful a performance as I’ve ever seen from a child actor.

It is Clint Eastwood sitting behind the chair so all the right notes are played at the right times. You feel outrage when outrage is required, frustration and helplessness, and finally satisfaction, a little joy and a bit of hope when the situation calls for it. Sometimes though I thought I could physically feel my emotional strings being tugged at since there wasn’t a lot subtlety at work here. ‘Changeling’ also does seem to run a bit long suffering from the ‘Return of the King’ phenomena of a movie appearing about to end only to keep on going. Because of the length of the film, and this probably only applies to me, but my mind would wander off on other things a time or two before being snatched back into the thick of the drama.

Despite those little nitpicks ‘Changeling’ is still big time cinema and considering Clint Eastwood is knocking on eighty I don’t know how long he’s going to want to keep doing this so we will appreciate him while he still has the passion. All the more reason for Mr. Eastwood to text me up so we can talk about that killer horror flick he has to make before he decides to hang ‘em up for good.

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