Mr. Movie

'Changeling' solidifies Eastwood, Jolie

Changeling is based on a true story.

In 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department is under siege and heavily criticized for using Gestapo-like tactics on the city’s citizens.

A woman’s young son disappears. A few months later a boy is found in the Midwest. The L.A.P.D. in desperate need of some good PR says the boy is hers. She knows he’s not. She pushes and asks the boy why he’s faking.

He won’t talk and the cops won’t listen.

Though the boy’s former teacher and his dentist testify that he isn’t who he claims to be, pressure from the police force her to say the child is hers.

Then, she goes to the press. Then, it gets ugly.

The buzz you’ve heard about Angelina Jolie’s performance is deserved.

She is incredible but -- by necessity -- two-dimensional. Analysis is simple. Jolie is stoic and stony, or she’s crying. There is no in between.

Still, it is an amazing piece of work. Just watching her for more than two hours is draining. I can’t imagine the emotional toll it took to grind through this material day after day after day. For that alone, Jolie deserves to acquire Oscar, Golden Globe and other acting award nominations.

As Jolie’s performance and the Oscars won by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman prove, Clint Eastwood is an actor’s director. He surrounds Jolie with a little known but very skilled supporting cast.

Jason Butler Harner plays the villain and contrasts the low-key performance of Jolie and those of her co-stars with one that is over-the-top. With a less capable director Harner’s exceptional work doesn’t work. In Eastwood’s hands, it does.

John Malkovich is the only other name star, and he has a small but important part. Also noteworthy is Michael Kelly doing a sympathetic cop more interested in justice than the internal code of behavior.

As a director and an actor, Eastwood has never shied away from difficult, controversial subjects or characters. But even for Eastwood, Changeling is creepy. A deep, low-pitched malevolence roils beneath the surface.

Eastwood plows from scene-to-scene-to-scene with workmanlike precision, slowly building his film to a hammering intensity.

Eastwood does Changeling like a polished version of something out of that period. The film smacks of pulp journalism or a quick read from one of the true crime magazines that were so popular in the 1920s.

The lack of middle ground and depth from Eastwood’s main character and this plot are paradoxically Changeling’s biggest flaw and strongest appeal.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated R for mature themes, extreme violence. It opens Friday at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.