Changeling Review: Angelina’s Grand Finale Fares Well

November 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Film Reviews

If this is Angelina Jolie’s last film, as she has suggested it may be, then she is at least going out with a bang. In fact, this is her most powerful performance ever, and she stands out from an excellent cast of relative unknowns (with the notable exception of consistent tour de force John Malkovich doing his best menacing deadpan) as a single mother who has lost her child and been fobbed off by the LAPD with a fake son.

Changeling represents a considerable departure from some of the turgid turds Angelina Jolie usually seems to pop up in (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Tomb Raider, Gone in Sixty Seconds, anyone?) and seems like a full circle back to the last film in which she got committed to a mental asylum, the brilliant Girl, Interrupted. As in that film, Jolie handles scenes of desperation, hate, hope and horror with real subtlety and nuance in Changeling. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood face and perennial tabloid favourite reminding us that she’s also has the capacity to be a truly remarkable actress, who seems to have matured from the volatile sex symbol of the early 2000s into being comfortable as a proper character actress.

Jolie is not the only stand out aspect of Changeling. Clint Eastwood, too, seems to be developing into a director of some distinction. Changeling is an immersive experience, as any film based on a true story must be. The costumes, in particular, are immaculate for the period, and the softness of tone also invokes a sense of hazy nostalgia. It’s hard to believe that the same Eastwood that swaggered and mumbled his way through countless Westerns could produce a film of such clarity. It would have been easy to cross the line from tension into obnoxiousness with such emotionally taut material, but Eastwood toes it to perfection. Similarly, almost a third of the film is fairly dark and disturbing, but he doesn’t lift from the overcooked thrillers and torture porn that have flooded screens lately. By suggestion rather than explicit demonstration of the horrors going on behind closed doors, these scenes encourage a sense of unease rather than disgust. Eastwood also manages to avoid Hollywood cliches – despite essentially being one himself during his time in front of the camera. This isn’t a film about a strong woman, or even particularly a film about family, and it provides little personal satisfaction for any of the characters. Rather, it’s a film about social justice and the power of the many over institutions which have rotted to the core. This isn’t feelgood, and it’s not a blockbuster, but it’s a film which adds to the canon of cinema in a way that most could only dream of.

By Christopher Harding

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