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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Changeling Review (Text)

I had wanted my first Blog post in over a month to be something a bit special. I figured I’d gone so long without posting that I should bring out the big guns for my folly back into the world of the internet, especially considering the fact that I missed the site’s 1 year anniversary completely. Sure, I don’t have many fans, in fact, I’m not entirely certain anyone is actually going to read this. But, I still enjoy writing these reviews and bizarre snippets, and I do appreciate the little feedback I get. So, in order to kick start the second year of Voice From the Pillow, I had intended to review the new Rhys Ifans movie, Mr. Nice.

This would have happened last Tuesday, were it not for the fact that my local cinemas do not seem to be showing it, just as happened with The Bad Lieutenant when I wanted to see that. In fact, the only cinema within an hour’s driving time of me that was showing the film happened to be in a city currently undergoing massive reconstruction works to the roads, and I got completely lost in the diversions and was unable to find the cinema, so unfortunately, there will be no review of Mr. Nice.

Instead, I hope this review will suffice, and I hope you continue to visit the site for yet another year. Maybe we’ll even get some more fans this time round. Here’s to hoping!


I don’t know why, but for some reason I had a very different idea in my head of what Changeling would be than it actually was. In some ways, I think I must have mistaken it for A Mighty Heart; Jolie’s other movie about a Grieving Woman trying to find out what happened to a loved one.

I knew the basic story was that Angelina Jolie’s son goes missing, and is replaced by a different boy, but for some reason I thought the entire film was focused on her trying to convince the media that this boy was not hers, and showed the breakdown of her sanity as she was constantly ignored, and told she got her boy back. Whilst this is a part of the plot of Changeling, it is not the entire story, and what I’m about to tell you will undoubtedly change your view of the film if you are unaware of what actually happens, so spoiler ahead.

Changeling is all about a serial killer. It is a serial killer movie through-and-through.

Whilst the first half of the movie unfolded exactly as I expected it would, we were soon introduced to the real story, that of Gordon Stewart Northcott, one of the youngest serial killers ever to be apprehended, and the perpetrator of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Having not been aware that this was the focus of the movie, this came as a rather pleasant surprise to me, because although the first half of the film had been executed perfectly by the Director (Clint motherfucking Eastwood, which I hadn’t realised right up until the end credits, butprobably should have guessed), I wasn’t really sure where it could possibly go after Jolie’s character, Christine Collins, was institutionalized, and had feared that the second half of the film would be drawn out, and boring. Instead, we had a classic switch in the tone of the story, as we went from a movie about a woman whose child was missing, to a movie about a serial killer abducting and murdering young boys.

My mother, who had been the one who picked up the film, assuming that it was just about a woman coming to terms with her son disappearing, did not seem to enjoy this turn of events terribly, because although not too explicit in the level of violence shown, it was still somewhat graphic. But I really enjoyed it.

As you probably already know, I’m rather partial to movies about serial killers, and love some of the portrayals you see of them. In fact, I watched a good few of them over the summer, as they seemed to be showing them fairly regularly on the Horror Channel. Whilst I love some of the movies about fictional killers, such as American Psycho or Silence of the Lambs (both of which feature killers based around Ted Bundy – though different aspects of his personality in each case), I really enjoy watching the “True Horror” movies, which tend to be on a much lower budget, and are usually made for TV, because I find it so much more interesting to watch a portrayal of an actual killer. Seeing a big budget movie about a serial killer, then, was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, because it meant they had the budget and skill to make a movie as spectacular as the fictional ones, such as Silence of the Lambs, whilst at the same time have a genuine character study of an actual killer, adding another layer of fascination to the story. And you know what? They achieved it.

Some of the serial killer films I have seen recently have been hardly based in fact at all, and are pretty lackluster, especially if you know the story already and are watching it being butchered, as happened with the Ed Kemper movie. Others I thought were fascinating, and felt would have been incredible if they had just been made on a big enough budget, with the right Director in charge, such as Bundy, or The Riverman (as in those are two of the movies I enjoyed, I am not advocating Gary Ridgeway be released in order to direct horror movies. Although…). It was great, then, to see an interesting story, handled competently without differing too much from the actual events, and made on a big budget.

The story behind Gordon Stewart Northcott is an incredible one, and even though Eastwood does not delve too deeply into his world, we still get a good taste of it. In fact, it is in a large part due to the fact that the film is somewhat removed from Northcott’s story that it is so interesting. We’ve had countless movies in which the serial killer was the lead and which didn’t focus on the victims too much, and none of them will ever top American Psycho for its sheer brilliance in bringing such a character to life. On the flip side, we have also had a lot of movies based on the actual victims of serial killers, or on Government agents trying to stop them. What we have not had before is what Changeling delivers, a movie about a serial killer, told from the point of the unaware family of one of the victims, and later filled in by the killer’s somewhat accomplice and cousin, as he confesses everything to the police in a fit of guilt.

The fact that we are never told Northcott’s motivation for the murders makes the movie all the more brilliant, because it keeps the fascination in the character alive. If we were told at the very start that he was molested at a young age and that he was simply re-enacting his hurt on the young boys he kidnapped, then it would have taken away a lot of the intrigue in the character which Eastwood creates by keeping his distance from events in Northcott’s past. I suppose this is also the reason why it is never explicitly stated in the film the Northcott molested and tortured his victims, because implying it not only increases the level of horror as opposed to showing the events, but also keeps us that little more detatched from events, so we can see things more through Christine Collins’ eyes than we would if we had the full facts of the killings, as we would do were the movie from Northcott’s point of view.

The actor playing Northcott, Jason Butler Harner, also turns in what must be the performance of a life time, nailing the role of psychopath on the head. He goes from superficially charming with a grandiose sense of self worth to a nervous, depressed wreck and back again with seeming ease, and really portrays the traits of a psychopath effectively. Aside from his execution scene (which I shan't go into in this review, except to say it is outstanding and I don't want to spoil it), probably the best moment Harner delivers is when he is first captured, and led away by Canadian police. When a reporter asks him how he managed to evade capture, he jokingly says “well, clearly I didn’t”, clearly showing both the lack of remorse and the glibness you would expect from such a character, and yet moments later he angrily yet still charmingly states “no comment” when asked about the boys he murdered. Few actors can pull off that level of character acting, but Harner nailed it, and let’s hope it lands him some other decent roles in future.

Whilst we’re on the acting, I should probably mention that Angelina Jolie turns in a fantastic performance as the grieving mother, and can play paranoid, angry and depressed emotional states very effectively. My one and only complaint was the token moment where she is crying and you see a tear just roll down one of her cheeks uninterrupted, which movie producers seem to think is how people cry. My only problem with this is that it looks unrealistic. People tend to either break down crying and make a lot of noise, or they tend to go into a state of shock and just not react. I have never seen a case in real life of someone crying how Jolie does in this movie. But then, I suppose I’ve never seen someone go through what she had in real life.

Also whilst we’re on the acting, the fact that the police captain seemed to switch from being American to Irish unnerved me slightly, but it wasn’t as though his performance was awful, I would have just liked it to have been a bit more convincing. Other than the accent, I felt the actor did very well portraying the role, and most of the acting across the board was very impressive.

One thing I would have liked to have seen the movie do is mention how Northcott’s mother was involved in the murders, and that although Northcott himself could not be proved to have killed Walter Collins, his mother pleaded guilty to the killing and served 12 years of a life sentence for doing so. I think this would have tied things up slightly better towards the end, but with the confession from the boy who escaped still serving as a small glimmer of hope in spite of it.

Overall, I was very impressed with the film. Eastwood went for the classic neutral tones cinematography that we see on almost all movies set in that time period, and it really worked in this instance. His directing choices all seemed to be perfect, and the actors all turned in good performances. I really felt they did the story justice, and it was a pleasant surprise seeing how it evolved across the course of the movie. Though, of course, I should note that when Northcott is referred to as a serial killer in the film, it is factually incorrect because such murderers were not referred to as “serial killers” until much later on.



4 stars

A very clever film, showing the damaged caused by a serial killer to the mother of one of his victims, this movie is definitely worth watching, and I would highly recommend it. Eastwood is on top form once again, and this is certainly a film you won’t want to miss. It does get a little slow towards the end, but still maintains the levels of excellence it displays throughout.

Now I'm just waiting for Church of Misery to do a song about Northcott...


Voice is currently taking a Masters degree course in Criminology and Criminal Psychology, and is studying Psychopathy and Sex Offending at this time. So yeah, I know my shit, bitches!

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