Not to be confused with the 1979 ghost story The Changeling this Changeling is a horror story of a very different stripe. Based on a long forgotten case buried deep in the L.A. crime files this true tale revolves around the mysterious 1928 disappearance of 9-year-old Walter Collins. Set in an election year and with heavy political pressure on city officials and a corrupt LAPD they find a child five months later who they claim is Walter and arrange to reunite him with his mother Christine (Angelina Jolie). Only problem is she says this is not her kid. When she asks the police to continue trying to find her son she finds herself victimized and accused of being insane and unfit for not going along with the PR campaign informing the public that the police have solved the case. With the help of a community activist Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) she begins to fight the city and the police who try in every way to silence her even committing her to a mental institution. The film details not only her valiant quest to right a wrong and find her real son but serves as a probing indictment of the police state 1920’s Los Angeles had become. As in her searing portrayal of the pregnant Marianne Pearl in last year’s A Mighty Heart Angelina Jolie once again connects with her maternal side. In another challenging role she must exhibit a wide emotional range going from fear to anguish to anger to pure resolve in an effort to uncover the mystery of her son’s abduction. Splendidly outfitted in ‘20s garb Jolie delves deep into the soul of a woman who dared to go against the grain and challenge a corrupt police department in Prohibition-era L.A. She’s simply remarkable in the most intense determined and heartbreaking role of her career. As the man who helps out in her cause Malkovich is perfectly matched to Jolie. As the merciless Captain Jones who heads the investigation to find Walter Jeffrey Donovan (TV’s Burn Notice) is properly frustrating and imposing while Colm Feore gets the evil side of his LAPD police chief down pat. Nailing her few scenes Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) plays a fellow psycho-ward inmate who helps Christine when she is institutionalized. Particularly impressive is Eddie Alderson as the 15-year-old nephew of the serial killer who leads police to a grisly crime scene and his uncle played a bit over the top by Jason Butler Harner. And filling out their juvenile roles nicely are Gattlin Griffith as Walter and eerie Devon Conti as the young man impersonating him. Clint Eastwood knows his way around ominous foreboding material so it’s no wonder he was instantly attracted to J. Michael Stracynski’s immaculately researched script. After Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River Eastwood exhibits a strong understanding of the dark side of human nature. Changeling fits right in with his oeuvre and he delivers yet another superbly crafted and acted film -- one that exists on two separate levels as a look at the corruption that crept into the LAPD of the era and as an impassioned journey of a woman trying to find a happy ending for herself and her son. Shot with the director’s usual ease Eastwood seems comfortable letting the almost unbelievable facts of the story speak for themselves and remarkably didn’t change a word of Stracynski’s fascinating screenplay. He doesn’t have to. The fact that it’s a true story that all really happened is simply incredible by itself. This is an unforgettable triumph for everyone involved.
Violence is the real story here: symbols of how media portrays it changes it as well as the general public's ideas about it. The story starts idyllic at a white-washed bayside peaceful summer house. Married couple George (Tim Roth) and Susanne (Naomi Watts) bring their fair-haired boy Georgie (Devon Gearhart) and sailboat out for fun and recreation. In the background their neighbors let an uninvited pushy twosome of boys named Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) onto their private grounds. The adolescent guys soon show up at George and Susanne's screen door weirdly needing eggs. These villains at first seem as though they're only guilty of being inconsiderate and clumsy when Peter drops the eggs and Susanne's cell phone into a sink full of water. But the boys soon turn decidedly nastier. Killing the family dog cracking George's knees with a golf club and tying Susanne up Paul makes them a bet: that all three will be dead in 24 hours. It is one of the film's several “games ” a motif running throughout Funny Games--except they are not at all funny. We can continue our love affair with the superb Naomi Watts. She singlehandedly brings much nuanced credibility to any film she's in--from tiny quirky indies (Ellie Parker) to blockbusters (King Kong) to Funny Games an amped-up genre flick. It's hard not to feel for Susanne's plight through Watts’ expressive eyes and her flashes of intelligence. Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) and Brady Corbet (Thirteen) also deserve credit in their own right looking harmless and rigorously conformist in their all-white appearance. They use silence and awkwardness to show them to be all the more antisocial and deviant. Their criminality makes an unusual impact. Even Tim Roth who plays the half-conscious tortured husband almost as a caricature evokes sympathy. Funny Games is director Michael Haneke’s shot-by-shot American remake of his 1997 Austrian film of the same name. The suspense scenes are world-class in ratcheting up the nerves much like Stanley Kubrick does with The Shining. When Peter comes after Georgie for example the building of the boy's fear is genius and unfettered with conventions. Haneke doesn't jolt the audience with messy noise and slight-of-hand allowing the characters' pure cruelty drive the fear. Funny Games gets a little big for its britches at times especially when Haneke uses the narrative to make larger social commentaries about the media. Its relevance (and the point's clarity) seems disingenuous. In any event audiences will react differently to the comically perverse violence: some will be horrified and delighted at the film’s exploitation others will see the humor but will be hesitant to express it. Funny Games is just a one of those polarizing films.