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Changeling (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/9/2009

In the English language, there are plenty of words which we see, hear, or use on a daily basis -- probably many times a day. We take these "common words" for granted and rarely stop to examine their meaning. However, there are less common words which pop up from time-to-time which require further examination. Dictionary.com defines "changeling" as "a child surreptitiously or unintentionally substituted for another". This word doesn't come up very often in casual conversation. (Hopefully...) I first encountered this word as the title of the underrated 1980 horror film The Changeling with George C. Scott. (Seriously, rent it.) This rarely (again, hopefully) used word now arises for a second time, again attached to a movie. This time it's the latest offering from Director Clint Eastwood.

Changeling opens in Los Angeles in 1928. We are introduced to Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single-mother who works as a supervisor for the telephone company. She spends the rest of her time with her son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith). On a Saturday when she had promised to take Walter to the movies, she's called into work. Arriving home after her shift, she can't find Walter anywhere. She calls the police, and after waiting for 24 hours, they take her statement and begin looking for the boy. Christine's world collapses around her, as she spends her free time (and breaks at work), calling police departments across the country. Five months after the disappearance, the police, specifically Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), announce that they've found Walter. Accompanied by Jones, other police, and the press, Christine goes to the train station, and she's presented with a boy who isn't her son. Jones pleads/bullies her into agreeing for the time being, saying that the boy has gone through changes. But, once Christine gets him home, she confirms that it isn't Walter and has her story corroborated by his teacher and dentist. However, the police ignore her story, claiming that she's wrong or possibly crazy. A local minister, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a crusader against police corruption, steps in to help Christine. But, if this isn't her boy, then where is Walter and why aren't the police still looking for him?

Changeling is based on a true story and apparently was a huge scandal at the time. Eastwood has made a very compelling film here and does a good job of sucking us into the story. While the movie is slow-paced (more on that in a moment), Walter's disappearance comes quite quickly and we jump into the story of Christine's quest to find her son.

In my recent review for Blindness, I wrote that the film asks "What would you do in this situation?" and then goes about giving us answers that we don't like. Changeling doesn't hit that point as adamantly, but it's there, and Christine does do what we would like to see her do. Her tenacity is the driving force of the story, and it makes it (somewhat) easy to cheer for her. Instead, we must marvel at the malice and ineptitude of the police involved. As a fan of Burn Notice, I didn't like hating Jeffrey Donovan, but as the stubborn Captain Jones, we can't help but seethe at this man who is more interested in his reputation than in helping Christine. As the film progresses, we marvel at the lengths which Christine will go and the injustices laid upon her. Jolie gives an unflinching portrayal of this determined woman. (Although, I'm not sure if her fire-engine red lipstick matches the understated nature of her character.) Eastwood also does a good job of weaving a new storyline into the film about half-way through, which ties into the main story. He seems to be taking a cue from John Carpenter when he cuts back and forth between two trials.

The odd thing about Changeling is that it's a very cold and unemotional movie. I was certainly into the film, but I was never moved by it. Perhaps Eastwood was trying to mirror the stoic nature of the time period, but despite some moments where characters cry or raise their voices, no one seems to be terribly upset by what is happening. I felt sorry for Christine, and admired her gumption, but this was always an intellectual reaction and not an emotional one. Also, the film drags a bit in the middle. Not to sound too harsh, but for a 142-minute movie directed by a 78-year old man, Changeling is well-paced, but there are certainly scenes where the story slows down (while Christine is waiting for Walter to be found and then when she's waiting for someone to help her with the impostor child) and the film suffers for this.

I'm normally not crazy about period pieces, but Changeling is a very well-made and competently-acted film with an intriguing story. In fact, this is the kind of story which would seem very far-fetched if it weren't true. This should appeal to fans of L.A. Confidential, as it explores the Los Angeles of yesteryear and the corruption within the police department there.

Changeling shrinks three inches on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Eastwood has given the film a subdued look, using many neutral tones and browns, and this looks very good here. Bright colors, such as Christine's lipstick, really stand out, and the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is good and the landscape shots gives us a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very quiet movie, so we don't get a great deal of overt audio effects here. There are certainly some nice stereo effects, many of which come from street scenes. The track does a great job of detailing sounds which move from one side of the screen to the other. Surround sound effects are present at the train station and during a protest scene. Not a home theater demo disc, but the sound is perfect for this movie.

The Changeling Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. I thought that "Partners in Crime: Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie" (14 minutes) would be an interview with the director and star, but it's actually a making of featurette which examines the entire film. Through comments from cast and filmmakers, we learn about the script's origins, how Eastwood get involved, the casting, and the challenge of doing a period piece (costumes and locations). "The Common Thread: Angelina Jolie Becomes Christine Collins" (5 minutes) is an interview with the actress where she describes how she approached the character (with additional comments from Eastwood and costume designer Deborah Hopper). The "U-Control" feature contains three choices of picture-in-picture extras. "Archives" shows actual photos and documents from the true story. "Los Angeles: Then and Now" offers photos and video which shows how the in-film locations look today. "Picture in Picture" provides interviews with Eastwood and the cast, as well as behind-the-scenes footage.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long