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Changeling - Preview & US reaction

Changeling

Preview by Jack Foley

CLINT Eastwood looks set to underline his reputation as one of the finest and most important filmmakers working in America right now, with new film Changeling.

Based on an incredible true story, the film is set in Los Angeles in 1928 and picks up on a Saturday morning in a working-class suburb, as Christine (Angelina Jolie) says goodbye to her son, Walter, and leaves for work. When she gets back home, however, she discovers he has 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 (John Malkovich), who helps her fight the city to look for her missing boy. But with the LAPD determined to protect themselves from embarrassment, she finds herself committed to an asylum… even as new leads begin to appear concerning the true fate of her son.

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. The film opened in America on October 24, 2008, and has received the type of reviews that suggest it could be another Oscar contender for Eastwood and Jolie.

Jolie, speaking to USA Today as part of the film’s US promotion, said that she found the role so harrowing that she had to put her own kids out of her mind to stop herself crying with sadness during her scenes.

“It was so personal that I spent a lot of time trying not to think about it,” she continued. “It was so easy to get upset. It was easier to understand the emotion, but it was so hard to want to allow that to come out. You don’t even want to sit and think about something happening to your kid, let alone really let it absorb you and get emotional about it and scream things like, ‘I want my son back!’.”

Eastwood, meanwhile, has backed the death penalty for child molesters and killers, stating in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “Crimes against children are the most hideous of all. I think they would be on the top of my list of justification for capital punishment. It’s hard to think about. When you’re doing the movie, you’re just using your imagination to figure out what the trauma was like.”

US reaction

Changeling struck a chord with the majority of the main critics in America. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, wrote: “Clint Eastwood again brilliantly portrays the struggle of the outsider against a fraudulent system.”

While Variety felt that it’s “emotionally powerful and stylistically sure-handed”. Newsweek wrote: “Eastwood tells his haunting, sorrowful saga with such a sure, steady hand, only a very hardened cynic could fail to be moved.”

And Roger Ebert, of Chicago Sun-Times opined: “It has not a single unnecessary stylistic flourish. No contrived dramatics. No shocking stunts.”

Rolling Stone described it as “a mesmerizing film that burns in the memory”, while the San Francisco Chronicle noted that “Clint Eastwood is in the midst of one of cinema’s most notable late growth spurts”.

And The Chicago Tribune wrote: “Eastwood, working from a script by J. Michael Straczynski, tells a painful true story neatly and well, with one foot in rousing Hollywood melodrama and the other in a story that resists tidy resolution.”

The Los Angeles Times also gushed, stating: “To see this film is to understand both how fragile and how essential our hopes for decency and truth are in a world that must be made to care about either one.”

Entertainment Weekly, however, bucked the trend by stating: “The oldfangled deliberateness of Eastwood’s style has backfired this time, only adding to the sense that though you may not have heard this particular story before, you already know everything that’s coming.”

And the New York Times noted that “despite Ms. Jolie’s hard work and Mr. Eastwood’s scrupulous attention, [Jolie’s] difficult, fairly one-dimensional character fails to take hold”.

Changeling opens in UK cinemas on November 28, 2008. View the poster or watch the trailer