Clint's Latest Shows He's the 'Changeling'

And Dirty Harry should punish him for it.

By Steve Burgess 31 Oct 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess reviews films and, if he feels lucky (punk), other aspects of culture every other Friday here on The Tyee.

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Jolie as Collins: Too good to be true.

Changeling, the new movie from director Clint Eastwood, is based on a true story. They tell you that straight off. The city is Los Angeles; the year is 1928. It is a time before the invention of nuance. Angelina Jolie is Christine Collins, single mom, saint. Gattlin Griffith is her young son Walter -- pensive, doomed. Mother and son are happy together. Happy people are doomed. Why, the lad isn't out of bed 20 seconds before Mom stands him against a wall to mark his height, because that will be important later. Then there is young Walter's dangerous behaviour. Young boys who stand solemnly at the window, staring after their departing mothers while sad music plays, are goners. Otherwise the camera wouldn't linger like that. And the music would be different.

Sure enough, young Walter disappears. Months pass. The corrupt LAPD, regularly railed against by radio preacher Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), eventually cracks the case, finding young Walter in DeKalb, Illinois. Except that the returned Walter is three inches shorter than the previous model, and circumcised. When Momma complains, the police call her crazy and throw her into an insane asylum. Police Captain JJ Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) has a willing accomplice in asylum doctor Jonathan Steele (Denis O'Hare). They are bad people, doing bad things. Bad true things.

Punish the pandering perp

1970s-era Clint Eastwood understood an important rule -- unpunished perps will always re-offend. After 21st century Eastwood made the weepy, implausible Million Dollar Baby, '70s Eastwood should have tracked him down and pistol-whipped him. Instead, Million Dollar Baby won an Oscar for Best Picture. Changeling is what happens when you reward that sort of bad behaviour. Produced by middlebrow maestros Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and written by TV veteran J. Michael Straczynski (Jake and the Fatman, She-Ra: Princess of Power), Changeling spends its 141 minutes furiously pushing every button and pulling every string. The nice people? Gosh, they're swell. The bad people? Splash water on them and they'll melt. Changeling is a true story full of cartoons. There is not a single character in this movie that couldn't be made into an origami swan.

And you'll have plenty of folding time. Changeling reaches its natural conclusion and then motors along for another 40 minutes. There can't be much material left over for DVD extras -- every scene appears to have made the cut. These include a cruelly attenuated execution sequence that might be justified as an anti-capital punishment message, were there any other evidence of that attitude in the film. There are trial scenes where sweet justice is served while the courtroom audience bursts into applause (that's your cue, folks). Rarely has a movie spent so much time rolling around in its own righteous indignation.

Hackneyed? How about the scene where the evil asylum people are preparing Jolie for shock treatment, just as Malkovich leads the cavalry to the rescue. Will help arrive before the juice flows to the electrodes? Will the nurse be reaching for the dial just as the door swings open and someone cries, "Stop!"? I won't spoil it for you. But remember -- it's all true!

Angelina, golly

Jolie's Christine Collins is so wise and wonderful, she's the only one who knows It Happened One Night will win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1934. If recent history holds, I suppose Changeling will win, too. Why not? It's as bad as Million Dollar Baby.

At one point Preacher Malkovich tells Momma Jolie: "God works in mysterious ways, Mrs. Collins."

Proof positive that Clint Eastwood is not God.

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