Another powerhouse film from director Clint Eastwood, Changeling may not have swept away with heaps of critical praise, but it has created quite a bit of Oscar buzz for itself. With three nominations (including Best Actress for Angelina Jolie), the exposure that this film will get to by the time the awards actually happen will be incredibly high. For now, however, the film didn’t make much of a wave in theaters; Jolie, Malkovich and Eastwood’s names alone helped the film nearly double its budget in worldwide sales, but the film saw fewer than 1900 theaters during its initial run.
Los Angeles, 1928: On a Saturday morning in a working-class suburb, Christine said goodbye to her son, Walter, and left for work. When she came home, she discovered he had vanished. A fruitless search ensues, and months later, a boy claiming to be the nine-year-old is returned. Dazed by the swirl of cops, reporters and her conflicted emotions, Christine allows him to stay overnight. But in her heart, she knows he is not Walter. As she pushes authorities to keep looking, she learns that in Prohibition-era L.A., women don’t challenge the system and live to tell their story. Slandered as delusional and unfit, Christine finds an ally in activist Reverend Briegleb (Malkovich), who helps her fight the city to look for her missing boy. Based on the actual incident that rocked California’s legal system, Changeling tells the shocking tale of a mother’s quest to find her son, and those who won’t stop until they silence her.
Of course thinking that this film would ever be anything short of a seat filler is a bit ridiculous; the talent alone would have gotten me into a theater seat if the thought ever crossed my mind. Sadly there are few movies I actually go to the theater to see anymore; if it’s not going to visually and aurally impress me, I simply don’t find $10.50 something I want to spend on a film I’m not going to be superficially wowed by. In other words if it’s an emotional film or something that looks good I’m still not inclined to go see it because they aren’t really what I think of when envisioning the perfect movie experience. On top of that the backlight on phones and people jumping up to take a call when something is jerking tears from my eyes on the screen is so very annoying and distracting.
So that’s the reason I didn’t go see this great film in theaters. I truly do mean “great”; it’s emotionally charged from the beginning and the resolution is something that is so simultaneously frustrating and satisfying. Then when you heap on top of the fact that it’s all a true story…well, it’s just all that much more emotional. Everything about the film is engaging, from the time period to Angelina Jolie’s absolutely brilliant performance as Christine Collins.
The film sets you up immediately with the intent of seeing the bond between mother and son; you get so caught up in that aspect that when it dawns on you again what this film is about, you immediately wish you weren’t seeing the tender scenes on the screen. When Jolie’s character leaves the boy at home, it’s so painful to watch because you know what the outcome is going to be.
As brilliantly acted and cast as this film is, however, it does make a few stumbling blocks along the way. The harsh transition from real life to the mental ward and the inclusion of the detective who discovers the grizzly truth about twenty missing kids is a bit jarring at first, because the elements come from nowhere. There’s very little setup for it and were this not based on a true story I’d almost fault it for seeming causeless reasoning for such a twist in the story; granted I’m sure it took a few liberties, although I doubt Eastwood had to change up much about this story to make it anymore engaging.
I’ve already mentioned how great Jolie was several times now, but her supporting cast is equally as brilliant. John Malkovich’s role, although simple at first (I actually had a hard time recognizing him with hair) and Jeffrey Donovan’s role as Captain J.J. Jones was so easy to hate as he spat out countless accusations, that I was surprised this was the same man who is so likeable on Burn Notice. Then of course there’s the killer played by Jason Butler Harner, who exudes slime from the minute he gets on the screen. It’s really a great cast and whether it’s the child actors here that absolutely steal every scene they’re in or the “stars” of the film, there isn’t a scene in this film that doesn’t feel Oscar worthy.
Eastwood’s directing also is to be commended, with brilliant cinematography to back it up and just a fantastic transportation back to the 20’s and 30’s, with everything from the costumes, cars, and scenery just feeling period authentic. Everything about the film is brilliant and the score, also composed by Clint Eastwood, fits the film like a glove.
Overall this film comes Highly Recommended, although keep in mind it is one of those films that, after watching it again, the chances of taking another trip with it is slim. There just isn’t much about this film, acting aside, that would warrant a second viewing as it’s such an emotional ride the first time around.
Universal’s release of the film on Blu-ray comes in a standard Blu-ray Elite case, with an insert advertising the Blu-ray format and disc art that mimics the cover. No cardboard o-ring is included and the menus follow the usual Universal “blade” system. Extras are pretty minimal as well, but there are some decent Blu-ray goodies to look at while you watch the film itself.
First up is the VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.40:1 video transfer that is, as expected from a modern production, clean and clear. There is some grain present in a few of the lower-lit sequences, but for the most part everything is crystal clear and clean. No compression artifacts or DNR is seen and everything about the film looks terrific; there’s a particular shot after Jolie’s character is “reunited” with the boy claiming to be her son where she talks to him in the bedroom. The lighting only hits half of her face and, intentionally I’m sure, the amount of facial impurities that are seen in this light is really a testament to the format. Sure it’s not the most flattering image, but it portrays the distressed mother perfectly and overall this transfer is quite impeccable.
The included DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is predominantly located in the front channels only, with the surrounds only kicking up dust during the more emotionally charged sequences and the mental ward (where patient screams and nurse chatter is heard all around the room). Strong clarity and a solid mix, this DTS track doesn’t disappoint for what is mainly a dialogue driven film. Also included is a French DTS 5.1 track, as well as English SDH, Spanish and French audio.
First up on the extras list is a series of Blu-ray only goodies. First is a Picture in Picture bit that pops up occasionally during the course of the movie, as well as Los Angeles: Then and Now extra that allows you to take a look at the difference between the 20’s LA to what it looks like today. Finally there’s some Archives with images and documents that follow along with the real life story. There is also the ability to share movie clips via the BD-Live function, should you be so inclined.
Standard extras here include Partners in Crime: Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie (13:33, 1080i), a featurette that looks at the making of the film with comments from the cast and crew. Next is The Common Thread (4:58, 1080i), which profiles Jolie’s character in the film and the inspiration she received from the woman she was portraying.
And…that’s it. Not a whole lot of extras, as I said before, but this really isn’t the type of film that you really want to spend hours watching featurettes on. I will say a commentary would’ve been nice, but I guess Eastwood wasn’t up to doing one for this film. In any case this release is still Recommended.
Changeling arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17th.