These days, there is little doubt that Clint Eastwood is among the very best of Hollywood’s directors. But way back in 1971, that was not exactly the case, when Eastwood was making his first film at Universal – a tense little thriller, PLAY MISTY FOR ME. At the time, Mr. Eastwood was considered by many to be a not very good actor, and by extension, a “terrible” choice as a director. Naturally, many people in Hollywood were rather envious about Eastwood’s “clout” at being able to transition from a bankable actor into a fledgling director.
Interestingly enough, Cinefantastique’s reviewer had no such qualms, and instead saw the seeds of greatness in Eastwood’s directorial talent. Here is what critic Dale Winogura had to say about Eastwood’s directorial debut:
“Clint Eastwood has proven his ability in PLAY MISTY FOR ME, and one hopes this will not be a one shot stab at directing. Eastwood has made a strange, powerful and superb film of both genre feeling and infinite visual dimension, and such marvelous dedication to the form as he displays should not be stilled or repressed.” (Winter, 1973 issue.)
37 years later, Mr. Eastwood has returned to Universal to make yet another “strange, powerful and superb thriller,” only this time he now has a few more years of experience behind him, as well as two Oscars as “Best Director.” In fact, with CHANGELING we get a truly unexpected thriller, based on a very bizarre true life story that adheres quite closely to the actual facts of the case. BABYLON 5 writer J. Michael Straczynski stumbled across the story when a friend of his at Los Angeles City Hall told him about the 1928 era tale of a child abduction that the LAPD claimed to have solved by returning the wrong boy to his mother, Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie).
Straczynski recalls, “A source I had at City Hall called one day and said they were burning old records and that there was something I should take a look at before they put it into the incinerator. So I zoomed down to City Hall, and they had a transcript of a City Council welfare hearing in the case of Christine Collins. I began reading the testimony and thought, ‘this can’t actually have happened. This has got to be a mistake.’ But it was enough for me to get hooked before the book went into the fire.”
CHANGELING producer Rob Lorenz was just as awestruck as everyone else at Universal who had read Straczynski’s screenplay. “I was about 15 pages into the script,” says Lorenz, “and I had to flip back to see if it was really a true story; it was just so amazing to me. “Joe Straczynski had done something very clever. He stuck photocopies of news clippings every 15 or 20 pages in the script, just to remind you it was true. I was not only amazed it was all true, but astonished that I had never heard of the story before and nobody seemed familiar with it.”
After seeing the film, I found I had exactly the same reaction as Lorenz did to this sensational story. Why had I never heard about it? Could such a weird tale actually have happened? Of course, after 80 years, it’s not that surprising that the case seems to have been largely forgotten, but to be truthful, it’s a case that was so horrible, one only wishes it were a piece of fiction. However, after Joe Straczynski re-discovered the piece, he quickly realized it would make for an emotionally riveting thriller that would contain the kind of “California Gothic” atmosphere that made Hitchcock’s PSYCHO such a success in it’s day. In fact, to reveal any more details about the film’s twists and turns would be to rob the viewer of several key elements of surprise, so the less said about the plot, the better.
Suffice it to say, Clint Eastwood has made a beautifully atmospheric period thriller on the level of Roman Polanksi’s CHINATOWN. It’s also a film like PSYCHO and CHINATOWN, that should be a leading contender for a Best Picture nomination. There is also little doubt that several other Oscar nods should be bestowed on CHANGELING, especially among the superlative cast of actors, from whom Eastwood has elicited uniformly fine performances, including several of the younger performers. Usually, the younger actors are the weakest link in a movie, but in this case, all the newcomer’s do truly stellar work, especially Eddie Alderson as Sanford Clark, the terrified young boy who helps the unbelieving Police unravel the dark mysteries of the case when they are led to a remote farm in Riverside county. Of the veteran actors, Ms. Jolie turns in a beautifully modulated portrayal of every mother’s worse nightmare, made all the more traumatic by the corruption and incompetence of the L. A. Police officers who are investigating her son’s disappearance.
Los Angeles Times reporter Cecilia Rasmussen has provided two very informative pieces about the real life stories that are the source of Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING. However, as noted above, you shouldn’t read these articles until AFTER you have seen the film:
- I AM LEGEND excites and delights (0.333)
- CLOVERFIELD and its spectacular Monster (0.333)
- JUMPER is a surrealistic surprise - Film Review (0.333)
- Ruins delivers chills and thrills (0.333)
- Supernal Dreams: The Amazing... IRON MAN! (0.333)
- Supernal Dreams: Jean-Claude Carriere on Luis Bunuel's Sublime Fantasy, "The Milky Way" (RANDOM - 0.308)