Changeling
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Changeling

Movies are well known for their ability to reach the audiences on the full gamut of human emotions. They can make us laugh at the wild antics of the actors or cry at the sheer humanity presented before our eyes. While most films invoke some degree of emotional response it is truly rare for one to touch you so deeply that the film stays with you long after the final credits role and the lights come up. This is the difference between a good movie and a great film. One such example of such a piece of the cinematic arts is ‘Changeling’. It will reach deep into the core of your being and bring out a range of emotions that many may not even thing they were capable of displaying. The film was based on a true story and like most films of this ilk changes were made from the facts to enhance the dramatic impact. What is most important is the movie retains the intensity of the situation that the people portrayed endured. There is one phrase that overwhelms all the themes shown here; maternal instinct. There is nothing a normal mother will not do to protect her child. The bond between them is legendary in its strength and endurance. Many films have been made using this most ancient of themes but none to date have been as well crafted as this movie. Some have regarded this film as over blown or unfocused but they just don’t seem able to look beyond the surface of the film to its heart. There is no way to accurately present the emotions that are vital to this story. This is an unimaginable set of circumstances and to think that it was based on a true story is difficult to get your head around. Sometimes the truth is far stranger and hard to accept than a made up story and this is a prime example. The film did appear to have a difficult time in making back its $55 million budget. This is not an indictment of its quality but has more to do with the time it was released. It was put in the theaters at the end of last year; the holiday movie season. This put it up against the major blockbusters and family faire typical of the end of the year. Added to this the world’s economy took a nose dive leaving many people unsure of their financial stability. Many wanted to see was something that was an escape into fantasy not something that is brutally real and highly emotionally involved.

Some may thing the choice of writers to provide the script was an odd one. J. Michael Straczynski is well know and has a loyal legion of fans all over the world. The thing is he is best known for science fiction, particularly the cult classic ‘Babylon 5’. He also created another TV series that is constantly discussed in the Sci-Fi community; ‘Jeremiah’. All of his previous work before these shows were in television which such action or mystery faire as ‘Murder She Wrote’, ‘Jake and the Fat Man’ and the animated ‘The Real Ghostbusters’. What all these projects have in common is a commitment to quality. One of the main reasons that Straczynski works like ‘Babylon 5’ became such a hit is due too his ability to create a story that allowed for fantastic character development. Straczynski infuses his characters with such a degree of humanity, even the aliens that the audience is able to readily identify with them. It was a brave move who someone so established in television to take on such an intense story as this one for his first time on a feature film screenplay. Those who are fans of ‘Babylon 5’ known that Straczynski is a master at handling complicated story lines. In this movie there are several major themes that he weaves seamlessly into a gripping story. He deals with a mother’s unyielding love but sets this familiar story against one of police corruption. This is a period story set in the late twenties in Los Angels. Straczynski uses this to excellent advantage giving a classic sense to how the story unfolds.

This film was directed by Clint Eastwood. He has been in the entertainment industry for half a century now. During that time he has proven himself to be true Renaissance man. He has been there for the inception of the Spaghetti western, created one of the ultimate movie tough guys with Dirty Harry and helped solidify the TV western as a popular format. In recent years as many men are considering retirement Eastwood became one of the most well respected directors on the scene. Oscar buzz usually occurs whenever he takes on a project and considering his track record there is no mystery to this. Like many film buffs I have seen the works of thousands of directors and Eastwood stands out for the honesty of his style. He directs a movie with a panache that few can rival. He has the ability to take any story no matter how routine and turn it into an examination of the human condition. In ‘Million Dollar Baby’ Eastwood reinvented the boxing flick. Here he takes what would have been a routine kidnapping story and raises to an entirely different level. He can take a period piece like this and turn it into a timeless classic that is applicable to every generation that follows.

The story follows Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a divorced single mother. While that may not seen like a big deal now go back sixty years and it was close to a scandal. Christine works as a supervisor for a group of telephone operators; the women that used to connect you call before the invention of the relay switch. Her entire life centers on her only child Walter (Gattlin Griffith). One dreadful day she comes home to find her nine year old son gone. She is wracked with guilt since she left the boy alone to work an extra shift on her job. She turns to the police for help in finding her son but they are disinterested in her plight. Five months go by with no sign of the child. Finally there is a report that the boy was located abandoned by a stranger in Illinois. The police have been under fire in the news papers and radio for being completely incompetent, violent and corrupt so the brass see this as a perfect chance for some positive press. The only thing that is wrong is Christine tells them that the boy (Devon Conti) is not her son. No one recognizes him and there are doubts with the dental records but the police insist he is Walter. The head of the police juvenile unit, Captain J. J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), insists that Christine take the child home. The only one willing to take Christine’s side is a popular radio minister, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich). He was well known as a crusader against police corruption and constant thorn in their sides. When the clamor begins to reach the public the police label Christine as an unfit mother and have her sent to a mental institution.

This is the kind of role that Ms Jolie was born to play. She may have a reputation for tattoos and wearing vials of blood but there are few in the film industry that have dedicated themselves to the third world nations with the fervor that she demonstrates. Her brilliance as an actor is how she can channel all that passion into her role. There is no way to keep a dry eye watching her as a mother caught in the middle of the worse nightmare possible. Under the direction of a master craftsman like Eastwood Ms Jolie turns in a powerful performance that will touch your heart.

The film is provided for home viewing through Universal. It is released in both DVD and Blu-ray. This is more than a film it is an experience that you will not forget.

Posted 01/19/09

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