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'Changeling' could've been shorter, better

Twenty minutes into Changeling, all I would have had to sayabout it was "It was...good."

That freaks me out sometimes, thinking I'm not going to end up withanything to say about a movie. I'm used to having many loud andcorrect opinions, as the jury of cats I assemble to hear my morningtirades can attest (tomorrow's agenda: Shed Less Or I Start EatingYou).

When a movie's just there doing its thing being kinda good, Iend up panicking and doing some pocket-texting to the boys down atPure Reason Laboratories to get cracking on some fake plots andcomplaints so I can yet again pretend to be insightful.

But almost always, except the 30% of the time when I just make stuffup, I've got something to say by the time the movie ends. This leadsme to the inescapable conclusion anyone can write an interestingbeginning, but coming up with a satisfying conclusion is nigh-onimpossible.

Logically, then, movies should start with the ending first, so we knowwhether it's worth our time to stay and sit through the beginning, butas Hollywood isn't returning my calls on that idea just yet, lookslike we'll have to keep on suffering through the mountingdisappointment of films like Changeling in the meantime.

As a single working mother in the 1920s, Angelina Jolie sometimes hasto leave her young son home alone. After being kept late at work oneday, she returns to find her son is gone.

The notoriously corrupt local cops are slow to respond, but fourmonths later, they bring her the news she's been waiting for: they'vefound her son, and they're bringing him home. When the boy steps offthe train, Jolie knows at once he's not her son.

The cops convince her she's just distraught, but she soon findsphysical evidence the kid isn't who he says he is. But the cops, inbad need of positive press, stick with their story -- and the harderJolie fights to get them to resume the search, they harder the policepush to discredit her as a madwoman.

Changeling is a true story, but I'm not sure that's a goodthing. After a strong start diving into a supremely creepy premise ofa mother railroaded into replacing her son with a kid she knows isn'thers, things get increasingly melodramatic the further we get into the"facts," most of which consist of the police acting like big ol'assholes. Speaking as a young punk, I totally already knew that.

Jolie's acting follows suit. At first, she's got some charm and depth,but she soon ends up with nothing more to say than "I want my son back,""I want my son back," and "I just want my son back!"

Yet director Clint Eastwood's competent hand and elegantcinematography make Changeling look, for a while, like animportant drama.

There may well have been one in here. Despite its based-in-truthhandicap, there are some potentially compelling characters, includingJohn Malkovich as an anti-corruption crusading pastor, but inlong-time TV writer J. Michael Straczynski's script, none of thememerge as more than types. By the time the cops really get on Jolie'scase, things couldn't be more good vs. evil if in the big finale Jolieknocked the police captain and the One Ring into the cracks of MountShasta.

While the middle just spins its wheels, the ending completely stallsout, culminating in two court trials, each more riveting than thelast. Half an hour of resolution could easily have been condensed into10 minutes, but doing that might have preserved some of our dramaticinterest.

By the time the perversely cheery ending rolled around, Iwas thinking more about what Changeling could have been thanwhat I'd just seen.

Grade: C+

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