Changeling Is Beautiful, but It's. JOLIE DULL; LONE STRUGGLE: Angelina Jolie as a Betrayed Mother in Changeling, Which Also Stars Gattlin Griffith, Centre, as Her Son, and Michael Kelly as an LA Detective, Far Left

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

Changeling Is Beautiful, but It's. JOLIE DULL; LONE STRUGGLE: Angelina Jolie as a Betrayed Mother in Changeling, Which Also Stars Gattlin Griffith, Centre, as Her Son, and Michael Kelly as an LA Detective, Far Left


Byline: Matthew Bond

Changeling Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich Certificate: 15 Time: 2hrs 21mins *** Four Christmases Director: Seth Gordon Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon Certificate: 12A Time: 1hr 28mins ** Flawless Director: Michael Radford Starring: Michael Caine, Demi Moore Certificate: 12A Time: 1hr 45mins ** What Just Happened Director: Barry Levinson Starring: Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, John Turturro Certificate: 15 Time: 1hr 42mins *** Changeling is the new film from Clint Eastwood, and maybe that's the problem. Our expectations, or mine at least, have simply got too high. From a lesser film-maker this might easily be proclaimed as a picture of considerable quality, but from Eastwood, as accomplished a director as he was an actor, there's an unshakeable sense of disappointment.

Some of the performances, particularly from the supporting cast, are terrific and the Los Angeles of 1928 is beautifully recreated, but, unfortunately, Eastwood has chosen a story that, despite being true, never really reaches out and grabs you.

Instead, it is riddled with melodrama, at times unconvincing and really, really long.

It's the tale of Christine Collins, a woman abandoned by her husband when she gave birth to her only child but who has worked hard to create a good life for herself and her son Walter. She has a decent job as a telephone exchange supervisor (we see her roller-skating between problem calls) and shares a comfortable home with her well-behaved son, now aged nine. Life is good until one day, having been called in to work to cover for a sick colleague, she comes home to discover every mother's worst nightmare: her child is gone.

So far, so very nicely done, with Angelina Jolie looking terribly thin but undeniably pretty as poor Mrs Collins. Rarely can such lovely, kohl-rimmed eyes have stared out so desperately from under a cloche.

But then the story takes a twist I'm sure is historically authentic but soon proves trying. The Los Angeles Police Department, having been branded 'violent and corrupt' by campaigning Presbyterian preacher Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich), announces it has found Walter alive and well. He's heading back to LA even as the snake-tongued Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) breaks the good news.

The only problem is that the boy presented to Mrs Collins at the railway station in front of the waiting media is an impostor. 'That's not my son,' she sobs. 'It's not Walter...as you remember him,' smooths the ghastly Jones, inviting Mrs Collins to take the boy home on what he calls 'a trial basis'.

Donovan is one of a trio of unfamiliar faces who gratefully seize the opportunity Eastwood offers - the others are Michael Kelly as the police officer who later makes a vital breakthrough, and Jason Butler Harner as a truly unsettling serial killer - but the quality of the performances fails to disguise the fact that this over-long story is already getting bogged down.

The thoroughly nasty Jones goes on disbelieving Mrs Collins's increasingly anguished protests that the boy is not her son (he's 4in shorter and circumcised, for a start) for far longer than proves interesting. We're also never quite sure why the frankly rather creepy boy is such an accomplished liar - is it because he's been raised by conmen, as one ambiguous early scene suggests, or because the

LAPD has told him to? Either way, we're wishing DNA analysis had been around to settle the matter long before poor Mrs Collins is carted off to the local psychiatric hospital on police orders. That's another unfortunate development, not least because in a film already flirting dangerously with cliche, suddenly here's a whole Hollywood nuthouse of them.

Sooner or later, you just know someone's going to get out the old electro-convulsive treatment equipment.

There's more, much more - isolated ranches, priestly interventions, inquiries, trials, strangely protracted executions - and still we haven't got to the end. …

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