Blu Ray Title: Changeling
Disk Release Date: 2/17/09
Screen format: 1080P High Definition Widescreen 2.40:1
First theatrical release: 31 October, 2008
Previous releases on disk: Day and Date with Widescreen DVD
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly, Jeffrey Donovan, Gattlin Griffith, Jason Butler Harner
Sound Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Length: 2 Hours 22 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Billed as ‘A True Story’, Clint Eastwood’s recounting of the disappearance of Walter Collins in 1928 and the remarkable events which followed would probably be better described as ‘based on a true story’, but that should not discredit the powerful performances and superb storytelling that comprise this film. Changeling is at once complex and unbelievable, yet also a gripping character study and a period drama that shows a side of the 20s that is neither roaring nor yet fully depressed. Its time period is critical to the story and the actions of its main characters actively changed the development of Los Angeles as a whole. I’ve attempted to strip away many of the surprises but those who are interested in experiencing the story as Eastwood intends it to be told are advised to simply go watch the film and skip the rest of the review until after that viewing. Spoilers ahead!
Christine Collins (Jolie) returns from her day shift as a telephone operator to discover that her son Walter (Griffith) has vanished without a trace. Despite her search efforts, months go by with no sign of the boy, when miraculously a young man is found abandoned by a drifter and claims that he is in fact Walter. The police accept his story and return him to Collins, but she immediately rejects him and refuses to accept that this boy is her son, making many attempts to show that he couldn’t be Walter, including the fact that the boy is shorter than what she can show Walter was. When her public protests cause the corrupt police great shame she is moved to a mental ward under special authority that does not require any kind of evaluation or trial.
Another boy turns up who claims to have witnessed Walter in the hands of a demented rancher, Gordon Northcott (Harner). The detective who takes the case, Ybarra (Kelly) initially mistrusts the boy but knows that if he is telling the truth it will cause even greater PR problems for the department, but he checks the story out and discovers the shocking truth hidden on a farm outside Los Angeles. Between Ybarra and Reverend Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich), a minister with an on-air radio show whose audience is fed up with the police tactics, Collins is set free, finds the truth behind the Changeling who has been masquerading as her son, and helps bring Northcott to justice.
The heart of this film is absolutely Angeline Jolie and she carries it from start to finish, with as powerful a performance as a mother character as any put to film before. Eastwood’s mastery as a director is in full force here and together they build a gripping drama that whips past faster than the 142 minutes would suggest. While his licenses with the truth may be a bit questionable, the film does an admirable job of condensing down the strange but true story.
Sound Quality: 3.5/5
As would be expected for a voice driven period piece, the sound is quite spare. Dialogue however is crisp and clear and very responsive, with a few interesting scenes of sonic note, best heard in the chaos of the switchboard rooms and the protests of the Reverend’s followers.
While Changeling does not have an extraordinary surround track (and there are few occasions for Bass or LFE either) the score is perhaps Eastwood’s most moving score yet. It is a soothing under-presence for most of the film, with dramatic spikes when demonstrating the depths of the police corruption or the savagery of Northcott and the fear his captives possess.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Changeling has a distinct sepia-like look that puts a warm, rusty glow over most scenes. While this dulls the color pop and enhances grain, it’s a very sharp and clean print with solid detail throughout. This transfer perfectly captures the theatrical look that it was obviously a purposeful choice for the director and DP and brings that home with outstanding clarity.
Extra Features: 2.5/5
There are 2 traditional extra features and 3 embedded extras accessed by Universal’s interactive U-Control. Of the two featurettes, ‘Partners in Crime’ is the more traditional ‘making of’ entry, with focus on how Eastwood and Jolie’s combined talents used screenwriter J. Michael Stracynski’s script as a blueprint for a fascinating story. ‘The Common Thread’ explores the similarities between Jolie and the real life Collins. While my disdain for U-Control is well known, the Picture-in-Picture sequences on this disk held my interest as I jumped from chapter to chapter and I found the archival footage and comparison shots showing how LA has changed better than most interactive fluff.
Overall: 4/5 (Recommended)
I was excited to get Changeling as I had wanted to see it in the theaters but missed its run, but only knew what little of the plot that the trailer showed. Having seen it I found the combination of Eastwood’s storytelling and Jolie’s nuanced acting a powerful combination. The fact that the story is mostly true makes it even more intriguing and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of a book about the whole situation delivered to me, and I’ll try to add comments on that as well down the line. Those interested in it can Google for “Nothing is strange with you” by James Jeffrey Paul.
The film itself brings the best part of a mystery drama together with period styling, and this is especially true of the look that the film possesses and the simple but effective score that Eastwood also contributed. While there isn’t a ton of extras here, there is just enough to back up the film with detail about the real story and the making of the film.
Overall this BluRay is a compelling package and is easily ‘Recommended’.