There are three or four movies competing for attention within Changeling, and unfortunately for Clint Eastwood, they’re all equally dreadful melodramatic drivel. In his worst directorial outing since 1999’s True Crime, Eastwood delivers something close to a parody of an Oscar-baiting period picture, establishing a faux-prestigious tone for this “true story” about a 1920s single mother whose son is kidnapped and, when he’s located months later, turns out to be not her son. J. Michael Straczynski’s clip-ready script is a tale of both child and female abuse, as gaunt Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), upon contending that the returned boy isn’t her flesh and blood, comes up against a raft of monstrous misogynistic caricatures led by dismissive captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) and the nasty chief of the psych ward that Christine is eventually sent to after the LAPD – trying to avoid further negative press – grows weary of her nay-saying. A righteous anti-police-corruption pastor (John Malkovich) and a giggly, loose-limbed serial killer also find their way into Changeling, which overstuffs itself with sensationalized narrative rubbish that Eastwood shoots with oppressively decorous, corny stateliness epitomized by a slow-motion shot of cigarette ash landing (with a titanic thud) upon a table. The broad, crude construction of most every peripheral character is matched by the Swiss cheese nature of the film’s plot, so that Eastwood’s attempts to comment on culturally entrenched sexism get lost amidst hoary flashbacks, dull procedural machinations, and B-movie hysterics. These reach a crescendo once Christine is confined to the mental institution, an embarrassing sequence involving evil physicians who make Nurse Ratched look timid, Amy Ryan’s benevolent, foul-mouthed hooker and Christine getting a hackneyed last-second reprieve from electroshock therapy. Amidst the statuette-craving histrionics, Jolie valiantly attempts to suffuse Christine with the powerless heartache, frustration and fury of a grieving mother wronged. Yet between Eastwood’s overbearing direction, his story’s leaden moralizing and clunky logic, and his procession of ever-lamer would-be endings, Jolie’s performance ultimately succumbs to mannered routine, no less self-consciously affected and hollow than the proceedings as a whole.
(2008 New York Film Festival)