You have to be a parent for Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, the true yet until now virtually unknown true story of Christine Collins whose child vanishes from their home in broad daylight, to deeply rattle your nerves and touch your soul. Stunning cinematography, veracious attention to faithfully recreating a bygone era and stellar acting all around help Changeling’s cause. But the heartbeat is fueled by an unrelenting mother who will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to reunite with her lost child.
Skepticism surrounded Angelina Jolie from the day she accepted the role of Christine Collins. Known more for her bad girl image wrecking homes and jacking her bust up as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Angelina seemed the unlikeliest candidate to play a strong dramatic part in a Clint Eastwood-helmed period film. Yet Eastwood trusted her in the lead and you know he expects as much from us, too.
One small misstep by Angelina could have stopped Changeling’s heartbeat and proved one of the greatest directors of our time wrong. Perhaps due to Clint’s tutelage or a fear of losing one her own growing stable’s worth of children, Angelina channels vulnerability as a grieving mother and the strength of a leader seeking justice with the same breath. Her performance as a tragic heroine is strong enough to make you believe her character’s reaction is on par with if one of her own children went missing.
Changeling is an especially unique story due to the circumstances surrounding the initially presumed return of Christine’s missing child. The Los Angeles Police Department was already under scrutiny from a confrontational Presbyterian minister, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), for corruption upon Christine’s son’s disapperance. As a quick and easy means to gain favor with the public, the captain (Jeffrey Donovan) orchestrates returning a similar unclaimed child to Christine instead of continuing to pursue an increasingly cold case.
While Christine fought to prove this returned child was not her own, her son was entangled in the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop Murders that rocked California in the late 1920s. History tells us there never was a clear resolution to Christine’s search even after the grisly death farm was discovered. But Eastwood serves Changeling in a way that unintentionally lays the groundwork for a definitive answer yet never connects the dots. The entire final act is oddly scripted, constructed and executed, a rare oversight from Clint in an otherwise riveting niche film you wouldn’t expect him to make.
Changeling has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards which is easy to understand when viewing it on Blu-ray. The VC-1 encoded 2.4:1 1080p transfer brings out the color de-saturated yet highly contrasting “film noire” cinematography as I’m sure it was meant to be seen. Detail and color, where applicable, is spot on. But it’s the strong interplay between stark whites and inky blacks that jump right off the screen. Even without the benefit of a modern color palette, this is another reference transfer for a new theatrical Blu-ray from Universal as they continue to set the bar high.
If Universal has proven they are one of the best studios when it comes to Blu-ray transfers then they are hands down the best studio when it comes to consistently impacting audio mixes. Changeling offers another 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track from that takes the film to another level of appreciation. You wouldn’t expect much from a drama with barely a hint of action. Yet this mix bustles with activity whether coming from the busy streets of Los Angeles popping up around the room, the soaring score or music cues which awaken bass response you’d only expect from a popcorn movie. Changeling offers proof that lossless audio can make a difference regardless of genre.
Universal has bestowed Eastwood’s Changeling with Blu-ray exclusive U-Control interactive bonus features. Much of the behind-the-scenes, interview and production footage normally seen in traditional featurettes has been cut up and made accessible via Picture-in-Picture footage, Los Angeles: Then and Now which overlays shots of modern Los Angeles over period shots created for the film, and Archives which reveals documents and images from the real-life case of Christine Collins. As with any U-Control feature, I would still prefer to watch my bonus material without having to click the remote every few minutes to cue one up. Otherwise, and as is the case with Changeling, I feel like something is being left out.
The remaining behind-the-scenes and interview footage has been put together in a pair of traditional high definition featurettes revealing an entertaining balance of filmmaking insight and conversation crammed into abbreviated runtimes. Partners in Crime: Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie (13:33, HD) mostly ignores Angelina and instead focuses on Eastwood’s casual directing style and ensuring the time period was faithfully represented in the film. The second featurette, The Common Thread: Angelina Jolie Becomes Christine Collins (4:58, HD), puts Angelina in the spotlight by sharing her preparation for playing Christine and her candid retrospective of how the role affected her as a mother.
Any parent can sympathize with being dealt Christine’s harsh nightmarish hand as portrayed in Changeling. Even non-parents should feel touched after watching Angelina as Christine break down in despair and subsequently rise up against a corrupt police force against mounting adversity.
A stumbling closing aside, Changeling is wonderfully acted and a departure from both Clint and Angelina with the added improved of reference video and audio on Blu-ray. Unless you’re adverse to the sometimes unfair nature of history’s darker moments, definitely consider giving it a rental.
– Dan Bradley