by Marc Glassman
Clint Eastwood, director, music & co-prod. J. Michael Straczynski, script. Starring: Angelina Jolie (Christine Collins), Gattlin Griffith (“Walter Collins”), John Malkovich (Gustav Briegleb), Jeffrey Donovan (J.J. Jones), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Northcott), Amy Ryan (Carol Texter), Michael Kelly (Detective Lester Ybara), Geoff Pierson (Samuel Hahn), Colm Feore (Police Chief James E. Davis), Reed Barney (Mayor George E. Cryer)
Heaven On Earth
Deepa Mehta, director and writer. Starring: Preity Zinta (Chand), Vansh Bhardwaj (Rocky), Yanna McIntosh (Rosa)
In ancient pagan lore, fairies when angered would kidnap children and replace them with replicas—changelings. What could be more terrifying for a parent than to return home one day to find an imposter in their midst, a child who seemed to be your beloved son or daughter but isn’t?
Back in 1928, a real life changeling story unfolded in the city of Los Angeles, then basking in the warmth of Hollywood’s rise to power and the crazy excesses of the prosperous Roaring Twenties. A single mother Christine Collins, who worked for the telephone company, came home one night to discover that her 9 year-old son Walter had disappeared. Her plight was taken up by newspapers and radio stations—the mass media of the time—and a nationwide search was organized.
Months later, the notoriously corrupt LA police department called to inform Mrs. Collins that her son had been found and was going to be returned to her that day. As the mother ran up to greet her boy at the train station, with photographers poised to take shots, the devastated woman saw that the boy she was greeting wasn’t Walter. But in her panic, with a media mob waiting for her to pose with her son, Christine Collins allowed a policeman, J.J. Jones, to persuade her that she might be wrong and “to try the boy out.”
So begins Changeling, Clint Eastwood’s impressive drama, which features an Oscar worthy performance by Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a solid supporting cast including Canada’s own Colm Feore as venal police chief James E. Davis and a remarkably faithful evocation of the look and feel of ‘20s Los Angeles. The film is novelistic in its complexity, reminding one of films like Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, which also dramatized real-life crime stories and made them come alive on the screen.
As he did most memorably in Mystic River, Eastwood allows each character in the drama a chance to seize their moment and reveal themselves to us. Whether it’s a beleaguered Canadian kid showing the horror of being forced to be an accomplice to a serial killer or a tough, honest LA detective hearing his confession with a mixture of repulsion and compassion, Eastwood gives his “people”—actors playing real life characters—the opportunity to rise above the mundane and present hard truths.
A performer himself, he has become a great director of actors. It’s not just John Malkovich as evangelical preacher Gustav Briegleb who shines in this picture or the wonderfully resourceful Jolie, it’s Jeffrey Donovan as the willful, misguided cop J.J. Jones and Amy Ryan as good-time girl Carol Dexter who get a chance to show their thespian prowess.
J. Michael Straczynski, a former journalist and latterly a sci-fi scriptwriter, discovered the long-buried Collins story and took the film idea to Ron Howard who passed it along to Eastwood. It’s a tale with many strands, involving a notorious sex-abuse serial killer case called the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, the grotesque imprisonment of Mrs. Collins in a psychiatric institute, the presence of then-celebrity radio show minister Briegleb, the intrusion of a nascent form of modern media frenzy (not once but twice in the case) and police corruption on a massive scale–the roots of LA Confidential and the Rodney King case start here.
Overseeing all of it is Clint Eastwood, who has emerged in the past decade as an American auteur. Not content with being the last Wild West icon and a lavish supporter of jazz, the aging, reticent director has taken on the mantle of a contemporary John Ford or Howard Hawks. While he isn’t in that league, he’s close to it—and that’s high praise indeed. Look for Changeling when it’s time for the Oscars.
Heaven On Earth
Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth is a deeply affecting drama about spousal abuse among newly arrived immigrant Canadians. Using magical realism, she has crafted a dangerous tale of love, betrayal and the power of the imagination.
Chand, a beautiful and lively young woman from India finds herself enmeshed in a domestic prison when she arrives to marry Rocky, a complex, vicious Indian-Canadian. Trapped in a terrifying marriage and forced to live with Rocky’s sister, worthless husband and kids, their grasping egotistical mother and a weak if charming father, Chand has nowhere to turn among the conservative Brampton South Asian community.
It’s only when she meets Jamaican-Canadian Rosa at the cleaning factory where they both work that a possible solution is offered: magic. Rosa gives her a root that, mixed into a drink and given to her husband, is supposed to make Rocky love her. It nearly kills him—perhaps Rosa’s intention as she is horrified (as is the audience) by Rocky’s brutal attacks on Chand.
But when Chand pours the rest of the potion into the front lawn, something truly supernatural does take place. A King Cobra emerges, a trickster from Indian mythology that can cause people to make love—or, perhaps, be poisoned and die. Mehta’s film truly emerges at this point. Suddenly, Rocky is attentive and loving—part of the time. Why?
Is Chand in thrall of the Cobra? Or of Rocky? Accused eventually of taking on a lover, Chand can only reply that she’s in love with one man—Rocky, some of the time.
Deepa Mehta has crafted a brilliant tale of magical realism. The audience is kept completely engaged, waiting for a Cobra to strike—or love to emerge triumphant.