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Eastwood's Changeling: Manna for Adults

by Anne Thompson
October 24, 2008 4:45 AM
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ChangelingI saw Changeling for the second time Thursday night. It's as good as I remember it from last May at Cannes. And it's just the kind of movie that Academy members will appreciate--it played well at the Academy premiere.

Clint Eastwood beautifully evokes Los Angeles in 1928, when women were passive creatures bossed around by men, when the LAPD was corrupt and lawless, and when the real Christine Collins made news headlines when the police tried to return to her a son who wasn't hers. When she refuses to submit to their version of the truth, they clap her in an insane asylum.

Angelina Jolie is more than fine as Collins. She says she modeled the role on her mother; she seems dead-on for the period. She's sympathetic; we care about her and root for her, and get very angry on her behalf. That may be what the movie has going for it the most, given our lack of trust in authority right now. The movie will play strictly for adults, who may come out in droves, starved for material as they are. And Jolie should easily grab an Oscar nom.

John Malkovich and Jeffrey Donovan are both strong, as her advocate and nemesis, respectively. And Michael Kelly, one of Variety's ten actors to watch, also pops.

I admire Eastwood's ethic of working fast and hard on multiple projects. I also applaud each film's organic shape and size, and the director's resistance to formulaic three-act structures. But there's something wrong with the trajectory of Changeling's last half hour. As long as the film hangs on Jolie, it works, but it takes a detour in its last third to focus on a serial killer mystery before returning to Collins' search for closure. Some Eastwood movies such as Flags of Our Fathers and Changeling seem to be missing that last final polish.

Peter Bart reflects on how Clint Eastwood has changed over the decades: for the better.

It sccored a not-so-great 51% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes (1979's The Changeling scored 77%). Here are reviews from Michael Wilmington and Todd McCarthy.

Read Steve Gaydos's report on his October 22 Q & A with Changeling screenwriter J. Michael "Joe" Straczynski on the jump.

Here's the trailer:

As Bob Dylan said in song, "Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content." And there's no one less content than journalists. So I was feeling like the long-lost brother of screenwriter J. Michael "Joe" Straczynski as we shared the stage after a Sneak Previews screening of his new (and first) film, "Changeling." Seems we both spent time in the wordsmith trenches for the long-gone, somewhat lamented Los Angeles Reader alternative weekly. Joe also has alumnus pals strewn about from the late Herald-Examiner as well.

Joe moved on and became an icon of the geek set, creating TV sci-fi sensation "Babylon 5." I can picture the fans at Comic Con racing past "Changeling" star Angelina Jolie to hug Joe, who looks exactly as describes himself, like "a guy from the streets of New Jersey."

Now that Joe's one of the hottest screenwriters in the biz, with about a half-dozen pictures in various stages of production and/or development, the brotherly pride vibe emanating from me across the WGA stage was probably palpable, but not because, as he recounted, he was "in Cannes in May and the phone rang and somebody said, 'Is it okay if Mick Jagger joins us for dinner?'"

The pride is that after all his years as a top TV scribe, it was his return to his journo roots that propelled Joe to the top of the film world food chain.

Taking a year off from TV gigs, he spent his time in the bowels of L.A. City Hall, digging into the horrifying yet inspiring story of Christine Collins. Of the film's many glories, his meticulous research and attention to both character and period detail illuminate every frame of Clint Eastwood's magisterial epic of injustice. It's a dandy piece of screenwriting, but also an awesome piece of reportage. For those who keep track of such things, the research took a year. The screenwriting only took a couple of weeks.

"I am here to tell you," he announced, unsolicited, to all of the struggling screenwriters in the crowd, "that it doesn't matter who you are, who you know or how old you are, whether you've written for TV or at all. I am proof that if you find a great story and tell that story well, the dream can true."

There was no book on Christine Collins for Joe to refer to, but as Joe told the crowd, there will be one now. Written by Joe. Or J. Michael, if that's what Mick Jagger prefers to call him.

Welcome home, brother!

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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