Maybe they can't all be masterpieces, but isn't it nice to know that Clint Eastwood still has an outlet to continue making the type of movies he wants to make, largely without studio interference? Too few directors working today specialize in mature, intelligent character dramas for adults, free of either audience pandering or awards-baiting pretensions. Eastwood's movies have grossed enough money and earned enough awards over the years to afford him the luxury of artistic freedom in Hollywood. Even in his later years, he continues to crank out new movies at a steady clip. At the tender age of 78, the director had two films in theaters in 2008.
'Changeling' (which is not a remake of the 1980 George C. Scott supernatural thriller 'The Changeling') stars Angelina Jolie in the true story of Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles who arrives home from work one day to discover that her young son has gone missing. Naturally quite upset, Collins receives little help from an insensitive police force that insists the boy will turn up eventually and writes her off as a typical hysterical woman. After five months of constant berating, the police, with much fanfare, finally deliver into her arms a 9-year-old boy that looks a little bit like her son, but decidedly isn't. That's the sort of thing a mother can tell. Nevertheless, the smug police captain (Jeffrey Donovan, star of TV's 'Burn Notice') assures her that she must be mistaken, that his experts know better than she does, and asks her to take the boy home on a "trial basis" to see if she recognizes him in a few days. As you can imagine, that doesn't work out so well.
Refusing to give up on her real son, Christine takes her case public with the help of a preacher (John Malkovich) on a crusade against police abuse of power. This leads the city of Los Angeles to denounce and discredit the woman, and even have her committed to a mental hospital for an alleged persecution complex. Things look hopeless until a break in the case finally unveils a horrific scene at the Wineville Chicken Coop.
As always, Eastwood directs with masterful craftsmanship. He delivers a compelling period atmosphere and a sure sense of tone. The film bristles with Christine's righteous indignation without lapsing into too much overt sappiness or showboating histrionics. Jolie was nominated for another Oscar for her work here, and indeed is quite good in the role, remaining stoic and determined as events put her through an emotional wringer.
Unfortunately, the high caliber acting and impressive production values can't disguise the fact that the story falls into the trappings of a typical "I want my kids back!" TV movie, and the script by J. Michael Straczynski (creator of 'Babylon 5') has about as much complexity as one. As presented, Christine is simply too much of a saint, especially when she turns into a crusader for other victimized women in the second half. The character is too noble, too virtuous, and too flawless in the face of plot contrivances that continually stack the deck against her. She has no developmental arc at all. Christine is always right, and everyone else is always wrong. The movie leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity, even when such things might be more dramatically interesting.
At just under 2 1/2 hours, the film also runs far too long for its own good. Eastwood could easily shave 40 minutes off the length and not lose anything important. Even so, 'Changeling' has more strengths than weaknesses, and is a compelling (though flawed) drama that is frequently heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, sometimes despite itself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Changeling' comes to Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The disc has the studio's usual intuitive menu structure and is not burdened with any annoying forced trailers (which is more than I can say for discs from most other studios). Universal has even seen fit to provide a navigation tutorial for viewers using a Playstation 3 controller.
'Changeling' has a photographic style similar to Eastwood's earlier 'Flags of Our Fathers'. Colors have been selectively desaturated to evoke a period atmosphere. It's not quite sepia, but has a distinctly stylized appearance that looks suitably old-fashioned. Meanwhile, specific other colors (like Jolie's red lipstick) are allowed to pop when appropriate. The Blu-ray's 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks terrific. Although the photography is intentionally a little soft (to represent both a nostalgic glow and also the hazy smog-filled L.A. city views), the High-Def picture has an excellent representation of fine object detail.
Eastwood has a way of carefully sculpting light and shadows. The Blu-ray's contrast and shadow detail capture this very well, at least in the first half. However, there's a strange brightness fluctuation at time code 1:23:14, as if the transfer operator tried to adjust the contrast mid-shot. From that point forward, the picture appears a little too contrasty, with a loss of shadow detail in dark areas. Fortunately, the difference isn't too severe. I probably wouldn't have even noticed it if not for the sudden jump in the middle of a static shot. By and large, this is a fine-looking disc.
The movie's sound design isn't showy, but comes across with pleasing warmth and fidelity, especially in Eastwood's understated score. The surround channels are reserved mainly for ambience, but create a convincing atmosphere. Dialogue is sharp and crystal clear at all times, without any distracting shifts in tonality during ADR.
If there's any area for disappointment, Universal really skimped on the bonus features for such a high-profile release. Both the Blu-ray and comparable DVD have only two primary featurettes.
'Changeling' may not be among Clint Eastwood's best movies, but is nonetheless a solid period drama with strong performances and an interesting story. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, though the supplements are a bit thin. The disc is certainly worth a look.