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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Clint is a Changeling

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to Clint Eastwood over the past decade or so. The man is, of course, a living legend who has enormous talent both behind and in front of the camera. However, while his last few films have gotten lots of acclaim and awards attention, they just haven’t done it for me.

I found both Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby to be trite, simplistic and over-acted despite the considerable talents of those in the cast. The fact that Sean Pennfinally was rewarded for his years of good work for a film in which he is so utterly over the top (“Is dat my dawta in dere!?!”) is a real shame. And while I’m shocked that so many people were gigantic fans of Clint’s past few efforts, I can’t say that it upsets me; Clint truly deserves it for not only making relevant films at his age, but because of the considerable talent he shows off in each and every one of his films. I might not like his last four films, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see the expert craftsmanship he brings to the table in each of them.

The last Eastwood film that I truly adored was one that most everyone I know detested:Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A big part of why I enjoyed that film so much is that it’s the last film where Clint doesn’t seem so worried about getting to the plot: he allows the film and its southern locales to marinate for a while like a good down-home barbecue; he lets the meat smoke instead of grill. The result is a beautiful-looking, haunting and oddball slice of apple-pie America; while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly was mine.

The weird thing is that I almost don’t really think of Eastwood as an actor, even though that’s how most people know him. I think he’s wonderful in Unforgiven and the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, and he’s excellent in White Hunter, Black Heart and In the Line of Fire, but now I think of him more as a director. What he did as an actor was to just be his gruff-and-grizzled self, but when he gets behind the camera, he likes to explore and find his softer side.

The great thing about the years since Eastwood’s best film, Unforgiven, is that he has been a chameleon behind the camera; while he has a voice that is uniquely his, he’s alternated genres like a much younger filmmaker, one who’s still finding his voice. That’s what makes us all root for him, whether or not he succeeds each time out: he is ever-searching and always learning, and it’s hard not to respect a craftsman who continues to redefine what his voice is as he gets older.

Which makes it all the easier to recommend what I feel is Eastwood’s best film sinceMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Changeling is almost like a companion piece to L.A. Confidential, an expose of corruption in the police force, as well as a film about the denial of women’s rights in the 1920s. It begins as a film about a mother losing her child and fans out from there. It’s like we’re looking up close at a painting done in pointillism and then we slowly step back and realize what those dots mean in the grand scheme of things. This is Clint at his genre-defying best, deftly blending a mix of a mother in peril, a courtroom drama, a detective story and many others. At its heart, though, what Clint has created is one of the most expertly filmed melodramas in recent years.

The film is based on the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) and how her lost child is returned to her five months after he disappears one day — except the child returned to her is not her son. When she confronts the cop in charge, J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), she is told repeatedly that this is indeed her son; after a rash of embarrassments to the LAPD, they cannot afford another one. Christine doesn’t want any quarrel with the LAPD; she just wants them to do their job and find her son. Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) takes up her cause. All the while, Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) is investigating a lead about several murders at a Wineville farm.

This is a lot of material to cover in 140 minutes, but Eastwood makes each scene matter and he is aided by a marvel of a performance by Jolie. Some folks have likened this performance to her role as Marianne Pearl in A Mighty Heart, but they couldn’t be more different. Whereas Pearl was someone who tried to keep her cool and was not prone to outburst, Collins is far more hysterical (and rightfully so). The only similarity is that both are characters who have someone they love taken from them, but the way in which they deal with those circumstances is remarkably different.

Collins is beaten down both physically and emotionally by a corrupt system, and Jolie brings a strength to the role that is not easily hidden behind the façade of fragility that Collins wears when in front of the men who want to condemn her. Eastwood has found the perfect leading lady in Jolie; she brings that same intensity and interior strength that Clint brought to each of his roles. Jolie deserves a nomination at the very least for not allowing Christine Collins to be someone that we pity.

The supporting work is excellent across the board, with a particularly strong performance by Malkovich, who plays against type in this film by being an out-and-out good man who wants justice. He brings a warmth to the film – and to Christine – that helps get us all through some of the more trying parts of the film. Donovan makes us want to wring his neck — which means he does his job well — and Kelly is pretty damn good as well, very convincing as the one good cop on the force.

That is not to say that the film is without its flaws. The last half-hour drags on a little bit and there are times when it seems to lose focus. But it is never boring and while it plays around with some clichés, it never devolves into histrionics. Eastwood’s hand is sure enough that he never has to have a moment that is bigger than the rest of the film; there is no bright shining moment where everything comes together, because this is/was a case that is more complicated than that. There is no one ending, but a series of them, and nothing is tied up neatly with a bow — a testament as well to an excellent, straightforward script by J. Michael Straczyinski.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the way it looks back on the past with a modern eye, much the way AMC’s show Mad Men works; the film, like that show, doesn’t beat you over the head with the points about how women were treated, but it also lingers a little bit longer on those moments.

Compared to Mystic River – a film that also dealt with a parent losing a child – Changelingis better by the sheer fact that Eastwood doesn’t feel the need for anyone to yell at the top of their lungs to prove they are sad. While Jolie spends much of the film crying, she is always trying to hold it in. Changeling is a much more restrained film, and doesn’t easily fit into genre molds.

Ultimately, this is not a film that most will think of as one of the best of the year, but it does what films are supposed to: it keeps you riveted from beginning to end, even while it careens from genre to genre, place to place. We want to see how all the pieces fit, like any good mystery, but we’re not expecting them to fit perfectly. At the end, it seems like there might be a few more puzzle pieces left over, but that’s okay because that’s how it is sometimes.

What is most impressive about the career of Clint Eastwood is that as he gets older, he is more and more willing to take chances. And this is his best film in a decade because he doesn’t try to jam those puzzle pieces together anymore; he allows them to fit where they can while keeping his audience fascinated the whole way.

By the end of the year, we’ll be seeing yet another picture from Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino; after seeing Changeling, I cannot wait to see how he challenges himself again.

– Noah Forrest
October 20, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon