2008, Movies

Changeling (2008, Clint Eastwood)

This is a weirdly told true crime film which turns what would have probably been a really interesting film into a bit of a mess. It’s weird watching a Clint Eastwood film and thinking it could have directed by someone with a surer hand. I’m not sure what happened here, but it’s really clunky, something I can’t say for most Eastwood films, even those which I don’t like.

You first notice something is up with the cast – the cast is kind of incredible but many of them are playing really small roles. The film seems to believe that if the actor is a familiar face, we don’t need to know anything else about them – their motivations or anything else. I have seen movies where known actors are used to establish trust with a character and this is effective, but here it just doesn’t work. Michael Kelly, for instance, is introduced in such a cool way but then we barely see him before his big discovery. Basically what I’m saying is the audience doesn’t have a surrogate outside of Jolie, but she isn’t participating in very important parts of the film. The film makes it hard to relate to the scenes in which Jolie is not present.

There are also some weird jump cuts early on which feel super out of character with the rest of the film, but which try to hide the excessive exposition. Speaking of exposition, the film make’s its point rather bluntly more than once, sticking the point into characters’ mouths, such as when Amy Ryan – in the film for all of five minutes – tells Jolie the reason why women are put in psychiatric hospitals. And it’s a weird point for a man so identified with contemporary conservatism to make, given how much American conservatives hate women. But that’s another story.

I don’t get the big deal about Jolie’s performance. It’s pretty good, and it’s very out of character for her, but it’s not necessarily the best performance I’ve ever seen from her. It’s a good performance but I think she’s better in other roles and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else could have done a better job.

I’m not sure the film’s flaws are all on Eastwood; I think the script is really to blame. (One person says “Hell yeah!” at one point. That sounds like 1928 to me.) But Eastwood is normally such an assured director, I guess I sort of assumed he could make up for a flawed script like this and I guess I hadn’t seen one of his films with this flawed a script in a long time.

The acting is good. The sense of place is really well done. I don’t have any criticism really of the way the film is shot. But the script and editing are extremely clunky and the further I got into the film the more I wondered how much the film deviated from reality. And I just don’t know why so many name actors are in this film playing tiny parts.

There’s enough plot here to have made a TV show and I wonder if that’s what is required for an appropriate version of this story, or maybe just a smaller film. Anyway, the acclaim this movie received is weird.


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