‘Changeling’ provokes dissent in the blogosphere

Posted by · 3:13 pm · October 4th, 2008

Uh-oh. Since its premiere at Cannes, “Changeling” has provoked both breathless raves and withering putdowns, but after its NYFF screening, a number of prominent bloggers are falling into the latter camp, expressing disappointment over both the film and Angelina Jolie’s much-hyped performance.

The most articulate view expressed so far is by the ever-readable Nathaniel Rogers, who, despite high hopes for the film, thinks it is “overlong, overwrought” and suffers from an identity crisis:

Somewhere buried in “Changeling” is an interesting story about a woman finding her strength against significant odds … Unfortunately the movie as directed and scripted works against this potentially thrilling internal drama. The plotting and direction can’t decide which kind of movie this is: melodrama, courtroom, serial killer picture, procedural, period epic?

“Changeling“‘s title accurately reflects its early creepy child switch and its relentlessly mediocre shift from melodrama to true crime story. A better more disciplined film would have earned that title in a more ambitious way. It’s a shame that there’s so little real fluidity, few emotional surprises and no transformative character arcs within the sprawling story.

As for Jolie, Rogers doesn’t doubt her Oscar chances, but he finds her fatally miscast:

Angelina Jolie’s screen presence is, as everyone knowns, competent and forceful which is usually a good thing. Unfortunately her largeness somewhat robs Mrs. Collins of the journey from socially conditioned feminine weakness to lioness strength that we need to watch her stumble through. Jolie is technically proficient enough in these “womanly confusion” scenes but they don’t feel organic to the actress and there’s no surprise or reveal once she starts fighting back.

Karina Longworth at Spout is even less impressed, and a lot more harsh:

We drink every time Angelina hysterically proclaims, “He’s not my son!” We get very drunk, and this may be why we can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood made a cheap-looking Lifetime movie that eventually turns into an “And justice for all!” episode of SVU … Angelina’s constant tears keep flowing, long after the stakes have vanished, because Eastwood can’t help but indefinitely extend the misery.

The Playlist joins the chorus of disapproval, declaring Jolie “Oscar-deserving,” but finding the film itself “endlessly long, far-fetched and replete with predictable classic Hollywood filmmaking notes.” Meanwhile, Ed Douglas of Coming Soon hasn’t posted his review yet, but has made it known that it will be an outright pan.

What gives? Is the film that bad? Or with Eastwood’s recent run of form, are expectations simply too high? I’ve been back and forth over my expectations of the film — the trailer was compelling, but I’ve been left cold by some of the clips that have emerged since, which feature (to my mind) some worrying overacting on Jolie’s part. Hopefully things will all add up when I see the entire film, but I can’t help feeling a little nervous.




→ 21 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

21 responses so far

  • 1 10-04-2008 at 3:47 pm

    Chad said...

    I haven’t seen the film obviously, but I have a feeling Karina’s review is spot on. Particularly funny is her quote “Just when the drinking game is starting to get really out of control, there’s a twist so shocking that it’s punctuated by two inches of ash falling off a policeman’s cigarette … in slow motion.”

    This is exactly the type of simple filmmaking that Eastwood has been inexplicably praised for for years and reminds me of the choice in “Mystic River” to only show Kevin Bacon’s wife’s mouth throughout the entire film until the end when her arc is complete and then he pans up to her eyes. Retarded.

  • 2 10-04-2008 at 4:00 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Sounds like a great Eastwood flick to me. I still can’t imagine not liking this film.

  • 3 10-04-2008 at 7:32 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I knew it’d disappoint as soon as I read JMS’ way overpraised script. I flipped the last page and said, that’s it? Said the same thing about Body of Lies too. Every year “prestige” movies with impressive pedigree fail to register and I’ll bet anything that these two are it this year.

  • 4 10-04-2008 at 8:23 pm

    Sam said...

    But if I haven’t mistaken, isn’t Nathaniel Rogers anti-Clint Eastwood? He thought Million Dollar Baby wasn’t very good, and Hilary Swank really doesn’t deserve her oscar. I don’t know, have to wait and see. I hope there are more less bias reviews

  • 5 10-04-2008 at 11:56 pm

    Dave said...

    Fuck ’em. Bloggers aren’t critics, they’re amateurs. Most of them are in their early 20’s, they don’t like or ‘get’ Eastwood because they don’t understand his style. Most of them hate Eastwood because Paul Haggis wrote Million Dollar Baby, the film that denied the terminally overrated Martin Scorsese from winning that year (& we all know how much youthful bloggers adore Marty don’t we).

    They also hate Paul Haggis for beating out Brokeback mountain for Crash. Ever since M$B first emerged Eastwood & his movies have taken one kicking after another at the keyboards of these spiteful, ignorant & condescending little fuckers. And now comes the latest target for the blogger brigade; Changeling.

    Is anybody really surprised that NathanielR, Karina Longworth, EDouglas, Gonzalez at Salon, etc, all hated Changeling? As the saying goes ‘Well they would wouldn’t they.’

    Looking forward to ‘Changeling.’

  • 6 10-05-2008 at 1:42 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    A bit unfair, guys. As a 20-something blogger myself, writing off the critical perspicacity of this entire group annoys me. Both Rogers and Longworth are intelligent writers who genuinely love and understand film and have, to my mind, more credibility than a lot of the higher-profile critics who get quoted on movie posters.

    And if not connecting with certain widely-praised Eastwood films makes one anti-Eastwood, then so am I. And I genuinely love some of his work.

    I have no idea if I’ll agree with them in this particular instance. I really hope I don’t. But to attack them on the basis of age and critical status is ridiculous.

    Manohla Dargis didn’t much like “Changeling” either: is she also a “spiteful, ignorant and condescending little fucker?”

  • 7 10-05-2008 at 2:23 am

    Dave said...

    >>A bit unfair, guys
    No Guy, not unfair at all.

    Those bloggers that have trashed Changeling are hostile to Eastwood because they don’t like his style, they don’t care for his subject matter & they’re bitter that whatever filmmakers they favored were passed over by the Academy in favor of Eastwood – & I say that regardless of whatever flaws Changeling may or may not have.

    And no amount of blathering on your part is going to alter that despite your understandable defence of NathanielR, Longworth, etc. Understandable since you all swim in the same waters & are part of the same age group.

    The fact is that there’s a world of difference between the tastes of teens & 20-somethings & the tastes of those who are, well, not teens or 20-somethings. In contemporary American cinema Eastwood is perhaps the definitive example of this gulf between those in their 40’s & 50’s, or older, who think that movies like Million Dollar Baby are exactly what they used to love about American cinema, & those under 40 – especially the 20-somethings – who dismiss M$B as a ‘Lifetime movie’ before going on to write 2, 000 words about what masterpieces they thought Dreamgirls & The Departed were. They’re entitled to their opinion but their opinions don’t have any credibility.

    By contrast Manohla is a credible critic so her criticism carries that much more weight. However her primary point was that she couldn’t shake Jolie’s tabloid image therefore couldn’t take her performance in the movie seriously. I give her points for honesty but it strikes me as such an eccentric reaction that I don’t think it will resonate with anybody, much less the public. Perhaps Manohla may gain a different opinion once she stops paying an inordinate amount of attention to what the tabloids say about Jolie. And her opinion when balanced against the other majors that reviewed the film at Cannes was very much in a minority. When the legit press weigh in I suspect the majority will be in line with McCarthy’s Variety review, which is to say enthusiastic if not outright raves.

  • 8 10-05-2008 at 5:14 am

    John Foote said...

    I am 49 (old to most of you I am sure) and have been a professional critic for more than twenty years, both in print (which I prefer) and on television — I studied cinema in college as a major, loving the history, the genre study, the study of great directors and their styles and the study of world cinema — what are the qualifications to be a critic? — obviously a deep love of film, in fact it is an essential because you will see so many bad movies you will need that love to sustain you — second is an understanding, a strong one in the history of the cinema which allows you to spot style, borrowed or original, when a filmmaker is paying homage, and so on on and so on — a sense of daring, meaning you are willing to watch anything because it might just be the greatest thing you have ever seen –if you write it helps to be able to do so, in order to convey your feelings positive or otherwise about the film, and if on TV a sense of articulation as often the material is non-scripted — writing takes practice, TV takes confidence and poise –film should be everything in your life, meaning you eat, breathe, and sleep cinema – age has no bearing if you are able to have the above — and before I turned pro, meaning before I got paid for writing and talking about film, I had files and files of reviews that I had written beginning when I twelve — we all have an opinion, pro or not, and yes I am more inclined to listen to the opinion of an educated critic than someone not, but I still listen because at the end of the day we are all critics are we not? I especially listen to the young in case there is something, in my professionalism I might have missed — the young can often be wiser than the old, but hopefully they never forget that we have been exactly at the spot they are now — I like nothing better than meeting a young critic and discussing film, finding out their likes and dislikes, and hopefully they have seen something made before the year they were born — a critics’ greatest enemy is a closed mind —

  • 9 10-05-2008 at 5:21 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Very well said, John.

  • 10 10-05-2008 at 5:47 am

    Nathaniel R said...

    I agree with John’s assessment of what makes a good critic and I agree with the germ of Dave’s argument (if not the argument itself) that people have different values / understanding of film at different ages. It’d be terrible if there were no old critics to grant perspective and it’d be equally terrible if there were no young critics who might have new takes on what cinema can do/is for. Consider that GREAT book ‘pictures at a revolution’ and the critical divide over the best picture nominees of 1969. It was very much a youth/established divide.

    I have seen MANY films before my birth year ;) and I’d wither and die if i could only see new movies.

    But I reject the notion that a 20something can’t understand what Eastwood is up to. Discernment and critical thinking aren’t granted to someone who is 53 automatically. Neither are they absent from someone who is 19 automatically. And since I’m not in my 20s –and neither are some of these other mentioned ;) — and haven’t been for some time (sob. sniffle) it’s a suspect argument anyway.

    I also find it interesting that so many people still view “legit” as someone at a paper or magazine, despite the fact that holding a job you’ve had for decades isn’t all that difficult if you show up to work and do a decent job. Is Peter Travers “legit” because he’s in Rolling Stone –even though he’s essentially paid to write PR blurbs so that Rolling Stone can be on posters and tv spots. He does it VERY well — good writer but real critic? He would be an insanely great copywriter if he had gone into advertising. Is Ben Lyons “legit” because he’s on TV?

  • 11 10-05-2008 at 5:48 am

    Nathaniel R said...

    and by 1969 i clearly meant 1967 ;)

  • 12 10-05-2008 at 6:12 am

    lac said...

    Seems to me Karina walked into the theater not wanting to like this movie.

  • 13 10-05-2008 at 6:20 am

    Dave said...

    >.But I reject the notion that a 20something can’t understand what Eastwood is up to.

    Not all 20-somethings, just those like yourself whose stupid & unilluminating remarks about Eastwood & his movies – shot through with a self-satisfied smugness & condescension – speak volumes.

    Not, I suppose, that it much matters since Oscar voters pay little attention to voices from the blogosphere no matter how much Nathaniel, Wells, Poland, Stone, et al see themselves as ‘players’ in the process.

  • 14 10-05-2008 at 8:02 am

    Silencio said...

    Wow, Dave. You’ve really got a chip on your shoulder. You have intelligent points, but you seem intent on presenting them as obnoxiously as possible. Respect is a two way street.

  • 15 10-05-2008 at 9:48 am

    Chad said...

    “Those bloggers that have trashed Changeling are hostile to Eastwood because they don’t like his style, they don’t care for his subject matter & they’re bitter that whatever filmmakers they favored were passed over by the Academy in favor of Eastwood”

    Talk about spiteful, ignorant and condescending. The main reason you are fundamentally off base in your entire reasoning is you seem to think that we who love film as an art form worthy of critique actually give a fuck about who wins an Oscar. We care about finding truth, beauty and originality in the movies and it rarely comes from filmmakers like Eastwood, Scorsese, and especially Haggis.

  • 16 10-05-2008 at 7:39 pm

    M.Harris said...

    Wow! there’s no truth to be found in Scorsese work…and a movie like Million Dollar Baby had no findings of truth in it…I couldn’t disagree more.Granted that I don’t agree with what all the academy says is good or great…but I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face just because the “academy” says it’s good(sometimes they do get things right).To each his/her own but to say Scorsese has no truth to his work? and just because something is new and original does that automatically make it good?Travis Bickle coming to terms with what surrounds him in Taxi Driver

  • 17 10-05-2008 at 7:40 pm

    M.Harris said...

    Wow! there’s no truth to be found in Scorsese work…and a movie like Million Dollar Baby had no findings of truth in it…I couldn’t disagree more.Granted that I don’t agree with what all the academy says is good or great…but I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face just because the “academy” says it’s good(sometimes they do get things right).To each his/her own but to say Scorsese has no truth to his work? and just because something is new and original does that automatically make it good?Travis Bickle coming to terms with what surrounds him in “Taxi Driver” has no truth to it?

  • 18 10-05-2008 at 7:58 pm

    M.Harris said...

    Sorry for the double post.

  • 19 10-05-2008 at 10:07 pm

    Chad said...

    I said “rarely” not never. Scorsese has made some good films, just not any in the last decade.

  • 20 10-05-2008 at 11:09 pm

    Eunice said...

    Personally, I think Eastwood’s a great director. He makes films that are wistful, emotionally involving, and touching. (I’m thinking ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby’ here.)

    But, I think Eastwood’s not the problem here. I can’t see him not getting a directing nom. I do think Angelina Jolie has a towering offscreen presence that normally bodes well for her in terms of tough characters, but I’m a little skeptical as to how it will play out with her playing a woman in a period where they weren’t raised to be independent. So far, she’s played characters that reflect her known image. This is a challenge, and I’ll see Changeling when it comes out to find out if she meets it head on.