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Review: Changeling

With his patented unobtrusive style, Clint Eastwood narrates the harrowing tale of a working single mother (Jolie) searching for her missing son, writes Rashid Irani.

movie reviews Updated: Jan 16, 2009 19:13 IST
Rashid Irani

Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich
Direction: Clint Eastwood
Rating: *** ½

Clearly, Clint Eastwood’s late-life creative streak is cause for celebration. The first of two films directed by the septuagenarian auteur last year (the other, Gran Torino will hopefully be released here shortly), Changeling is based on a real-life incident that took place in Los Angeles of the late 1920s.

With his patented unobtrusive style, Eastwood narrates the harrowing tale of a working single mother (Jolie) searching for her missing son. The outcome may not rank alongside Eastwood’s finest films (Million Dollar Baby, The Bridges of Madison County, Unforgiven). Nevertheless, it has its powerful moments.

Working from a script by J Michael Straczynski, Eastwood convincingly depicts the milieu of the City of Angels with its period automobiles and costumes.

Just when the distraught mom is about to give up hope, the police announce that they have located him. Problem ahead: she claims that the wrong boy has been returned to her. Dismissed as delusional by the corrupt lawmen, the mother is locked up in a mental asylum.

So far, so compelling. Enter a crusading local pastor (Malkovich) determined to expose the venal police force. The over-busy plot now veers off in a different direction. A serial killer (Jason Butler Harner, oozing menace) and his detective pursuer (Michael Kelly) enter the scene to ensure a somewhat predictable cliffhanger climax.

In his second film revolving essentially around a strong female character (Hillary Swank’s pugilist from Million Dollar Baby is the other instance), Eastwood elicits empathy for the stubborn if vulnerable mother. He also indicts the chauvinistic attitude towards women prevalent during that era. Tom Stern’s elegant camerawork and a plaintive piano music score by Eastwood himself are the other major assets.

Her electrifying performance is more than likely to snag an Oscar nomination for Angelina Jolie this year. In supporting roles, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan as the wrongly incarcerated hooker and Jeffrey Donovan as the police captain, are impressive.

Changeling is recommended for the discerning viewer.