In my (very) humble opinion, there is one man out there in the land of Hollywood significantly underrated by the viewing public. Some people might not even recognise him at all in the capacity I refer to today. I’m talking about Mr Clint Eastwood. Sure, bells will be a-ringing at the sound of his name: one of the all time greatest anti-heroes of cinema, the epitome of a grizzled alpha male, and, naturally, his associations to the Western genre.
But what about when I mention his directing credits? Care to mention two or three of those? Well, it would appear that that’s all about to change, with attention finally turning to Eastwood’s work behind the camera, and quite rightly too. Indeed, his performance on- and off-screen in Gran Torino was much lauded by press and public alike in early 2009, but today I’m turning my attention solely to his directing credentials with his film Changeling.
A film that just slightly inched under the radar, Changeling tells the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie). A single mother of the 1920s, Christine gets along famously with her son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) – it’s just a shame that her work as a supervisor in a busy telephone exchange centre means that they don’t get to spend much time with one another.
One afternoon when Christine is called in to cover yet another shift, she is forced to leave a young Walter alone in the house. Upon her return, every mother's worst fear is realised: her child is gone, without a trace, and the LAPD wont touch the case for 24 hours. Of course, once the force get off their backsides it’s too late, and Walter is officially missing, but with the press and Reverend (and part time radio disc jockey) Gustav Briegleb (played by John Malkovich) on their case about the state of their operations, they need to salvage themselves.
When a boy matching the description of Walter is left alone in a café, the police find a way of improving their image: reuniting mother and son. The only trouble is the boy they’ve found isn’t the boy they were looking for, but that doesn’t seem to bother them too much. However, when it bothers Christine and she gets backing from the Rev, Captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) brings even more trouble upon the LAPD than intended.
But if there’s one thing the movies have shown us about the law, it’s that it can be easily flouted and abused to your own devices… So what will Christine’s antics, and her obvious contempt for the force, bring upon herself? Will it bring her boy back to her, or just a whole heap more heartache?
Be warned, this movie is not for the faint of heart. It’s not so much a film that will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, or one that plunges you in to the water of despair, more a ride that, at an ample pace, takes you along a plain of misery. However, although there is absolutely no let up from the tragedy that faces grief-ridden Christine, her attempts to find her son whilst battling with the injustice of the system is enough to keep any audience full of hope and captivated by her plight.
Jolie is powerful in the role of this super-mum, in a film that could almost be described as a one-woman-show. One almost forgets that she’s a pretty darned good actress, and not just someone that stole Brad from Jen, or a woman with a penchant for adoption. After this challenging turn, the bigwigs should be paying her a little more attention again and her willingness to play a part that compromises her beauty, somewhat.
Certainly there is little splendour to be had in a tale of abject misery, and yet, through Eastwood’s collaboration with his favoured (of late) cinematographer Tom Stern, there is much beauty within Changeling. Sure, the bleakness of this true story is mirrored by the wretchedness of the colours foregrounded by Eastwood and his cohort, and yet there is still some richness. Although there may be no light at the end of the tunnel for Christine, the audience will be willing to travel those murky waters with her... just in case.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.