DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: J. Michael Straczynski • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: James J. Murakami • CAST: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore
Angelina Jolie stars in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial masterpiece, Changeling, as Christine Collins, a single mother in 1920s Los Angeles whose son goes missing. A corrupt, misogynistic police department answers her hopeful prayers by returning to her a boy they claim to be her son. Fishing for much needed praise from hovering press agents, the police captain is momentarily able to silence Christine’s protest that this boy is, in fact, not her missing son. Based on a true story, Christine’s struggle to find her missing boy lands her smack in the middle of a battle between her drive to be reunited with her family and the police departments’ nefarious efforts to silence her before the embarrassing truth of their mistake can come to light. Jolie’s brilliantly emotive performance turns this drama-cum-thriller into an Oscar®-worthy contribution to ‘stranger than fiction’ historical cinema.
Harkening back to Hollywood’s golden age of epic melodramas, untouchable starlets and the American auteur, Eastwood creates a visual atmosphere that is both fresh and antique. Even as the film opens, the old black and white Universal Studios symbol from the 1930s greets the viewer, followed by an intriguing slow pan over neighbourhood streets. Slow moving model-T’s and the cable cars of LA line the tree shrouded roadway as soft colour begins to filter in giving the mood of the film a soft Technicolor glow. Together with the sweetness of old, Eastwood remains a recognizably styled filmmaker, marking his work with a rawness too contemporary to be mistaken for classic Hollywood.
Eastwood is known for his ‘actor first’ directorial perspective, directing films as he would want to be directed if he were the actor. Often, scenes are unrehearsed and wrapped in one take. The result of this method is a dynamic realness and humanity perhaps lost on over perfected productions.
In the Changeling, Jolie bares her very soul in the unguarded and honest way typical of her performance style but also of Eastwood’s methods. Jolie, who would already be considered American royalty, much like Hollywood starlets of yesteryear, is postured through out the film in facial close-ups, much like her royal predecessors. Lit like a visual song that only cinema can seem to capture, Jolie’s face tells the story of Christine Collins’ strength, suffering and hope. While in the golden age of cinema, a starlet needed to be fresh and youthful, Eastwood is more interested in gritty reality rather than glossy, imposed beautification. Jolie appears haggard, tired and imperfect as she suffers, though this is not exaggerated either.
From Unforgiven to Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood has found compelling stories of feminine inequality more than just a brave subtext. Eastwood’s women are allegories for rebellion against the expected roles that women have played or been forced to play in an unequal and unjust past. Changeling is a tribute to an obscure and forgotten heroine who brought down a corrupt infrastructure by refusing to accept the label of a foolish, emotional woman. Much like Eastwood’s directorial style, the truth of Christine Collins is much more pertinent than anything that could have been imagined.