F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 7, 2010)

7 05 2010

Prepare yourselves emotionally before diving into the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Clint Eastwood’s true-life story “Changeling.”  You might remember the movie as a blip on your radar in 2008 for one of two reasons: Angelina Jolie or the Best Actress nomination that Angelina Jolie received for this movie.  If you are one of Angelina’s detractors who argue that she’s good only for adopting babies and saving the world, you need to see this movie.  I have yet to see “A Mighty Heart,” so I’m not in a position to classify it as her best work since “Girl, Interrupted.”  However, it’s a reminder of why she has an Oscar sitting on her mantle.

Jolie takes on the persona of Christine Collins, a woman pushed to the brink in late 1920s Los Angeles. After the kidnapping of her son, the LAPD returns a boy who is supposedly her child in order to produce a positive headline for the department that had been marred by corruption.  Christine knows instantly that the boy is not her son, and she demands that the investigation into her son’s disappearance continue.  The police, not wanting to admit an error, dismisses her as crazy.  She obtains credible letters supporting her story, but the police won’t tolerate her vocal criticism.  They find a silencing method that evokes anger from people in high places, particularly a radio preacher, Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich).

In the meantime, the police also uncover a series of horrifying acts committed by Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner).  The Northcott storyline may seem like a tangent at first, but it ties into Christine’s story in unexpected and brilliant ways.  It also helps that Harner gives a startling and disturbing performance as the deranged criminal, one that has hauntingly remained with me since I have seen the movie.  It’s unforgettable the way he mixes the calm surface with a tumultuous and unstable mind.

Jolie’s forceful and commanding presence is a major part of the success of “Changeling.”  But it’s also director Clint Eastwood, who portrays these horrifying events with realism mixed with a comforting sensitivity.  A very delicate balance had to be struck to be able to really digest this movie, and Eastwood found it.  However, even with this approach, it doesn’t change the fact that this is an absolutely brutal and heavy movie.  It may not be for you if you cannot handle disturbing depiction of atrocities, including ones committed on children.

Fun fact: this movie isn’t based on a true story.  It is a true story.  Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski took all of the movie based on evidence that can be corroborated by documents.  Thus, what we see on the screen is as close to what actually happened in “the strange case of Christine Collins” (an original title of the movie) is as close as Hollywood can ever show us.

I’ve heard from many smart movie speculators that “Changeling” is a film that was met with a mild reception but will eventually be embraced as a truly great movie.  I wholeheartedly espouse this belief, and I have been convinced that this is one of the most emotionally powerful movies that I have ever seen since I first saw it in 2008.  As for you, why wait until the rest of the world discovers it?  See it now and say you knew about it before it became so popular.