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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Another Child Is Waiting
by Donald Levit

Clint Eastwood, a regular at the New York Film Festival, appeared at the current 46th edition for the press after screening of his Centerpiece Changeling. “Based on actual events,” this movie is preceded, paralleled and pound-for-pound bettered by Ross Kauffman’s Wait For Me, three minutes -- slated for a 2009 full-length documentary -- of old snapshots and home movies backing the face and words of a mother whose son John vanished in Kashmir in 1985. “So I wait,” concludes Peg Dreyfous, in order that hope does not die.

In his Changeling script, journalist and TV sci-fi writer J. Michael Straczynski attempts to tell the story as honestly as he could “to honor what Christine Collins did.” The 140-minute result bears the stamp of filmmaker Eastwood’s discipline and the no-frills style that characterized his acting. From a year’s research, then-sensational now-forgotten headlines are filled out with imagined dialogue and episodes, as the real-life heroine died seventy-some years ago, and no living family members have been located. Mise-en-scčne is meticulous for late ‘20s half-town half-farms Los Angeles -- surviving neighborhoods were scouted and spruced up -- and speech mannerisms and mores filtered through the director’s childhood memories of only a few years later.

The theme is in line with some of Eastwood’s more recent work concerning a woman’s struggle to make herself heard and seen in the male world which dominated his earlier films, acted or directed. Part mystery, maybe a murder mystery, Changeling does not get down to investigating, maybe solving, the specific puzzle until relatively late. The first part, and the link to the whole, is Collins (Angelina Jolie), abandoned mother of nine-year-old Walter (Gattlin Griffith) and roller-skating first female supervisor of operators at the Pacific Telephone and Telegraphic Company. Her calvary begins with the possible abduction of Walter and, instead of ending, opens into a whole new chapter when authorities locate him months later in Illinois, and he is brought back to the Coast, for the boy (Devon Conti) who steps off the train to much LAPD back-slapping and press flashbulbs, is not hers.

Corrupt in the extreme about once every decade (according to Eastwood), the City of Angels’ finest fail to convince the mother. Under PR pressure from Chief James “Bring ‘Em In Dead, Not Alive” Davis (Colm Feore), Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) attempts to reassure her into silence and, that and bullying not working, launches a smear campaign and worse.

The woman’s cause picks up one champion in John Malkovich’s Rev. Gustav Briegleb, celebrated for his Presbyterian pulpit radio crusade against city hall and its law enforcers. A second defender arises later -- the mystery-solving half -- in Det. Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly), whose apprehension of an illegal immigrant from Canada (Sanford Clark, played by Eddie Anderson) leads to an APB for the teen’s chicken-farmer uncle and suspected serial killer from Vancouver, Gordon Stewart Northcott (Jason Butler Harner).

Woman Alone, neither noisy common-law mother of three Karen Silkwood nor brassy divorced mother of three Erin Brockovich nor yet her own in-control widowed mother Mariane Pearl, Jolie is here acted upon rather than the initiator of action. In this updating of eighteenth century “she drama,” she remains unyielding but passive. Sympathy goes out to her for her plight and stick-to-itiveness, but the audience cheers only her contrived repetition of the defiant expletive of streetwalker-with-a-heart-of-gold Carol Dexter (Amy Ryan) and, at last, her physical manhandling of the cruel man who would cat-and-mouse her.

The younger cast members prove that good child actors are few and far between. The grown-ups are conceived with no gradations, the good guys all steely jaws and the baddies as flat smarminess, capstoned by Malkovich’s prissy Percy Dovetonsils preacher. The actual case arguably was not as isolated a one as rose-colored history would have it. Final half-justice and temporary official reform are drawn out at too great a length, and the film is not gripping in treatment of what’s become a frighteningly frequent modern occurrence. Not the semi-supernatural thriller that similar openings often degenerate into, Changeling sticks to what was, and is, ugly and real but does not do justice to the nightmare. 

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "R" for some violent and disturbing content, and language.)

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