All of the things that make Clint Eastwood's recent movies so interesting are in his new movie Changeling-ruined childhood, revenge, unbreakable courage-but he's excised his usual insights to play second fiddle to his lead actress. It's a large step backward for an excellent director.
Changeling, the story of a telephone operator named Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) whose young son vanishes in 1928, is the most shameless gimme-an-Oscar movie in years. It's an utterly humorless melodrama in which terrible things are done to children, but the real martyr is Collins, whom we see suffering majestically at every turn. It's hard to blame Jolie for all of this-the performance is a modest one, with the actress hiding under her cloche hat as she's browbeaten by unsympathetic cops and a truly monstrous doctor (played well by Denis O'Hare) who oversees Christine when she's committed to the nuthouse.
Christians who subject themselves to this movie, rated R for astonishingly brutal acts of violence that occur just offscreen, will at least be relieved that Jolie's defender is a valiant Presbyterian minister (John Malkovich) who, surprisingly, is in no way corrupt, venal, or libidinous. You're confusing me, Hollywood.
But there is an infuriating trend in this year's movies: nastiness and brutality in the name of "realism." Los Angeles, the fakest place on earth, wants us to understand that the fallen world is capricious and unfeeling and cruel. I had actually heard that before, in church. And the reason I can bound out of the sanctuary but dragged myself out of Changeling is that, even with all the sin and evil in the world, there's also the possibility of redemption. That knowledge makes for a happier life, and frankly, it makes for a better story, too.