Release Date: February 17, 2009
Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jason Butler Harner, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly and Amy Ryan
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Changeling is a period drama based on the true events surrounding the disappearance of young Walter Collins in Los Angeles in 1928. The film mostly focuses on the plight of Walter’s mother Christine (played by Angelina Jolie in an Oscar-nominated performance) as she attempts to find out what has happened to her son. The title of the film refers to the purported return of her son by the LAPD. Except that Christine is convinced that this is not in fact her son. Without giving away any more of the plot (and what I’ve described is encapsulated within the opening act), the film goes down several paths in depicting Christine’s nearly hopeless task of fighting the institutional power of the city and the police department, and her literal search for both truth and justice. There are many solid elements to this film – the performances are solid throughout, Eastwood’s direction is as assured as ever, and the costume and the production design evoke the period in a simple, yet satisfying manner. (I should note that the film visits “Bummy’s Diner” at one point – a clear tip of the hat to Eastwood’s long-time production designer Henry Bumstead, who passed away in 2006. Also, the film’s Art Direction and Cinematography have been nominated for Oscars.) And yet, the film still feels a bit indulgent. At 2 hours and 21 minutes, the story’s deliberate pacing drags in many scenes. My initial reaction is that the film would likely work better at about 2 hours and with a tighter focus. As it is, the film ranges from Christine’s situation to a wider-ranging indictment of civic corruption to a clinical examination of the case against Gordon Northcutt. I still find the film to be a worthwhile experience – I just think it could have gotten to the point a bit quicker, and made it clearer which point it is making.
Universal is releasing the film both on standard DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday. My review covers the standard definition release. It is a single disc affair, including the film and a pair of brief featurettes. Given the simplicity of the film, this feels appropriate. Fans of Clint Eastwood’s recent films will appreciate this addition to the canon, although they may find their attention wandering around the 2 hour mark. Fans of Angelina Jolie will appreciate seeing her delivering a fairly low key performance in some beautiful period hairstyles and garments. (And in a few scenes, as an authentic period detail, you’ll see her roller-skating in high heels!)
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Changeling is presented in an anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that has a bit of grit to it here and there, but presents Tom Stern’s Oscar-nominated cinematography in a fine transfer that mostly emphasizes a color palette toward the golden brown. The various CGI shots of 1920’s Los Angeles do stand out a bit, but I expect that to be an issue with the film itself rather than an error of the transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Wanted is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English and French that primarily lives in the front channels. Some atmospheric sounds and Eastwood’s simple score can be heard in the surrounds. In many scenes, however, the surround channels are completely quiet. On the other hand, there are several surprise contributions by the subwoofer – usually to background a key revelation or character moment. You could consider this a primarily 2.1 mix with a little work for the surround channels.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 ½/5 ½
Changeling comes with a minimum of special features – really just a pair of short featurettes. On the other hand, those featurettes do give a nice look into the making of the film and feature a generous amount of on-set video.
Partners in Crime: Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie (13:31, Anamorphic) – This short featurette is misnamed. In reality, it actually covers the complete making of the film, with a brief discussion of Jolie’s involvement. All the major players in the film are interviewed, and a little attention is given to each area, from the writing and research of J. Michael Straczynski to the cast to the production design and the costumes. There is some interesting discussion of Eastwood’s directorial technique – in particular his way of running a set without needing to call “Action!”
The Common Thread: Angelina Jolie Becomes Christine Collins – (4:57, Anamorphic) - This featurette, on the other hand, is correctly named. It includes discussions with Jolie and the film’s costume designer, with specific attention given to how the look of the real Christine Collins was referenced and to how period details like her iconic hat have been utilized.
When the first disc is put into the machine, a series of non-anamorphic trailers are presented for Flash of Genius, Milk, an anti-smoking PSA, Battlestar Galactica Season 4.0 and The Tale of Despereaux.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
IN THE END...
Changeling is a long film, but a worthwhile one for fans of Eastwood and Jolie. The period details are compelling, even if the CGI cityscapes don’t quite fit. It’s definitely worth a rental for fans of not only Eastwood and Jolie, but for more casual fans of period crime dramas such as Chinatown or LA Confidential.
February 16, 2009.