Lady Vengeance: Angelina Jolie is mother on a mission in Clint Eastwood’s latest.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Behold the power of Spike Lee to get under people’s skin! By some unaccountable phenomena, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling resembles a Spike Lee movie. It starts with a simple premise: Single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) asks police to find her pre-teen son gone missing in 1928 Los Angeles. Then, like Lee, Eastwood piles on extraneous, subplots: a corrupt police force (“The Gun Squad”) manipulating Christine’s misfortune; her exploitation by both the rabid media and opportunistic radio evangelist Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich); bogus psychiatry practiced by a shrink (Dennis O’Hare) who terrorizes her in a mental institution. Plus, Eastwood’s usual film-noir extravagances: His favorite hues are green and darkness. The only red in the film is Jolie’s 3-D lipstick.
For these reasons, Changeling isn’t suspenseful: It’s creepy. Lacking the historical veracity of De Palma’s Black Dahlia, its style is a bizarre form of old-school storytelling, mixing masochistic dread with ugly reportage. The opening credit, “A True Story,” is a bad omen. Fact and fiction are tools that Eastwood uses, like Lee, for a shrewd form of demography. Critic Gregory Solman once suggested that Eastwood works both sides of the aisle: Jolie plays a pre-feminist martyr surrounded by men who represent both conservative repression (the cops) and sentimentality (the Rev.). Eastwood also throws in serial killer episodes that lapse into gruesome pedophilia– including a set of child performances that are the least convincing since Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace.
Also like Lee, Eastwood has a knack for appealing to spurious cultural fears. Changeling (with its sub-Chinatown score) teases the contemporary appetite for dark cynicism. Instead of celebrating mother love, the movie indulges nihilism (“Our protectors have become our brutalizers,” Malkovich warns). Changeling doesn’t explore post-WWI culture, yet J. Michael Straczynski’s contrived script distorts pre-Depression-era gloom into timely horror. The psycho ward alibi– Extraordinary steps were necessary”– is Eastwood’s nod toward Gitmo.
You’d have to be a tabloid addict to fall for Jolie’s lousy lead performance. She initially evokes the emotional purity of silent-movie icon like Lillian Gish: Employed as a phone company supervisor, Christine dutifully tends circumscribed female phone operators or hovers over her child with maternal dedication. Then Eastwood puts on the screws and Jolie goes limp: She slouches, looks forlorn courtesy of eye shadow and droopy hats and speaks in a weak, anguished voice. Refusing to challenge society like Meryl Streep’s intransigent bereaved mother in A Cry in the Dark, Jolie goes for pity.
She makes Christine another sentimentalized woman with no family or friends for consul (like Frozen River, Ballast). During the tacked-on serial killer trial, Christine becomes St. Angelina and Lady Vengeance– Jolie also plays both sides of the aisle. Eastwood-Jolie fans are suckers if they mistake Changeling’s B-movie triteness for richly revived Hollywood classicism. Changeling isn’t just a mess of manipulative attitudes like a Spike Lee film; above all, it’s an extremely unpleasant experience.
CHANGELING (2) Directed by Clint Eastwood. • Starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich and Dennis O’Hare. • R, 140 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Lighthouse Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.