Monday, 12 January 2009

A Review for 'Changeling'

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Changeling was the first official Oscar film I saw this season and I went into it with pretty middling expectations. I expected Angelina Jolie to give a good performance and I expected John Malkovich and Amy Ryan to follow suit. Based on reviews I had read I expected the story to be jerky and disjointed, but not completely un-entertaining. But the film was not as I expected.

I’ll begin with what I liked.
Changeling is a pretty lengthy film, at 141 minutes it is just below two and a half hours. Based on a true story it’s a film that we probably wouldn’t believe it’s true if we weren’t told so. The writing is good and convincing. There wasn’t a line that I didn’t like, or felt forced. It all felt authentic and I think J. Michael Straczynski was impeccable.

But the writing aside, what makes Changeling stand out as one of the best films of the year is the strong cast. For me, there were three performances that stood head and shoulders above the rest. First, Amy Ryan. I was fond but not completely moved by her performance in last year’s Gone Baby, Gone, but her guest turn on the The Office won me over. Her role in the film is somewhat of a cameo (all the roles are cameos compared to Jolie who carries the entire film). I think that her performance is no better or no worse than Viola Davis’ cameo in Doubt this year, a performance that is getting the ravest reviews, yet there has not been in inkling of buzz for Ryan’s performance.

Next in line is Jason Butler Harner as the serial killer. I am very tempted to say this was the best performance of the film. I can honestly say of all the films I have seen this season (Doubt, The Dark Knight, Milk, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) this was my favourite male performance. I wish they could make a movie of his character in this film and have star in it. Those three minutes he has before he is hung consist of some of the best acting I have seen this year. It’s a pity not one precursor gave him any support. This was truly a performance to remember.

Then there is Angelina Jolie. This is her film. She is the first person we see and the last and she holds her own in this film. So many have said that her performance is pretentious, but if they were to really try to forget who they’re looking at they’d realise how great performance this is. In the smallest action she is able to portray so much and this is definitely one of the Best Actress performances of the year. The scene that stands out for me is when she calls the police for the first time to tell them that her son is missing. There is just the slightest shake in her voice, nothing tangibly makes it a performance… and that’s the beauty. That is what makes a performance stand out, when we are unaware that we are looking at a performance… it’s so natural, that it doesn’t seem like acting.

John Malkovich is his same dependable self and Jeffrey Donovan is memorable as the corrupt officer. With the other cast members ‘Changeling’ presents one of the best casts of the year.

But the film is not without its faults. The claims that the film is too long are inaccurate, but what is lacking is a sense of middle. Of course the film ‘begins’ when Walter goes missing and it end at the end of the 2 and a half hours, but the long gap between that seems so muddled sometimes. The amount of times the director built us up to what seemed to be climax, he’d throw us another curveball so by the time the actual ending is met interest is diminished. There were some small details that we didn’t need to see. But of course no film is perfect. Changeling is a film that delivers. It is beautiful to look at and it has a message, but it doesn’t shove it down your throat. It doesn’t deserve the 59% it has on Rotten Tomatoes. But like any work of art opinions differ and in my opinion this is one of the top ten films of the year. It has its issues but it packs an emotional wallop.



Danny King said...

I definitely agree with you that it is a top ten quality of a film. The fact that it is a true story makes it such a harrowing film because you couldn't believe some of this stuff happened. A completely underrated film.

Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam) said...

I really enjoyed Changeling and was really surprised by Angelina Jolie performance in the film (not really a big fan of hers). I love John Malkovich's character in this film, always fighting the injustice of the LAPD. The only thing I was bummed about was when I watched the film on Blu-Ray with the subtitles on. The scene when the LAPD returns the boy back to her the subtitles showed a different name for the boy so in a way ruined the surprise at the end. Other than that it was still entertaining!