In recent years, Clint Eastwood has given us a pretty grim universe. He wins a lot of Oscars, but the movie world he creates as a director is not exactly full of sweetness and light.
“Mystic River” (2003) was heart-wrenching, “Million Dollar Baby,” the following year, even gloomier, then came his pair of downers in 2006 about the battle of Iwo Jima. And now he presents us with “Changeling,” playing everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy depressing movies. Misery loves company. But I’d also like to see them just a teensy bit shorter, as the suffering seems to be almost unrelenting.
Nonetheless, Angelina Jolie is superb in this based-on-a-true-story melodrama about the search for a missing child, set spectacularly in an authentic-looking 1929 Los Angeles. It’s compelling, superbly photographed, and I was absolutely gruntled.
(Note: I’ve wanted to use “gruntled” ever since I came across it on an old episode of “Jeopardy.” I’ll take “Odd words for happiness” for $200, Alex.)
Angelina has the perfect look for a gal from the ’20s, and Clint has cleverly surrounded her with a supporting cast of lesser-known but up-and-coming actors, particularly Michael Kelly as a detective, young Gattlin Griffith as the missing boy, and Amy Ryan (from “Gone Baby Gone”) as a wrongfully-imprisoned prostitute.
One might think that the misdeeds of the Los Angles Police Department only date back to the Watts Riots or even more recently to the O.J. Simpson murder case. In “Changeling,” we learn it stretches back to the 1920s, when the high mucky-muck cop fashioned himself a “gun squad” and ran the city with an iron and unforgiving fist, ending up every bit as corrupt as more recent police forces.
After Jolie’s kid is snatched, the LAPD “solves” the case by presenting her with the wrong child. Naturally she protests and raises a public ruckus aided by John Malkovich as a crusading reverend. This annoys the cops, of course, because after all, kids is kids. But she continues to raise Holy Ned, so they toss single-mom Angelina into the L.A. County Psychopathic Ward. And although the inherent drama of the situation grips you, the script, written by graphic novel/TV veteran J. Michael Straczynski, begins to plod and even ramble a bit.
Still, I recommend it highly. Eastwood is one of the few directors who turn out films that you have to label “can’t miss.” His next one, “Gran Torino,” is now in post-production, and from the look of the Coming Attractions, our main man is all set to kick some gangbanger butt.
One thing bugged me throughout “Changeling.” The main theme music haunted me until I left the theater, and realized it is based on the “Baby of Mine” song from the old Disney animated film “Dumbo.” It fit perfectly into a film that may have been 15 minutes too long, but was worth the effort and anguish anyway. Look for Angelina to cop an Oscar nomination.