Angelina Jolie in Changeling (dir. Clint Eastwood, 2008).

I usually like Clint Eastwood movies best when he's in them--his own presence serves to distract him from his over-inclination towards redemptive aureate radiances and/or somber grey existentialities. Not completely, but just enough to make those excesses seem like evocative backdrops rather than strained auteurial strivings. In Changeling, it falls upon Angelina Jolie to do the distracting, and she puts in a heroic day's work of it. I think Jolie is one of the small handful of present-day cinematic leads who could have flourished in the old Hollywood star system. Not so much on the basis of her looks, which are solid evidence of whatever evolutionary transitions have occurred in the species over the last three decades or so, but her unabashed self-glorifying gaze, her confident sense of herself as a strange and wonderful idol whose human feet are just for show: she doesn't really need them to glide around as she does.

As Christine Collins, the real-life mother of an abducted child in 1920s Los Angeles, Jolie doesn't so much display authentic human emotions as invent new ones, on the spot, as she faces the camera. It's never as moving or pathetic as a more traditionally mimetic depiction of the event would be; instead, it's fascinating in a mechanical way. The anguish and grief is there, but it's bracketed, subjugated to its function as a narrative torture device. And the torture is very effective. It wrings from the viewer a confession of sorts. That confession is that we enjoy witnessing the progress of others' pain, at least when it is schematized and coordinated into narrative. Confessions like this are invariably followed up with the prospect of absolution, and to the film's credit, it does not try to force this sell. It does, however, try to sneak some pamphlets in your pocket at the last minute.

Besides Jolie, the other visual focal point is the ridiculously beautiful recreation of 20s LA. It's more than we need for this story, but as ostentation, it's admirable as hell. One historical detail, however, has bothered me since seeing the film (about a month ago): at one point, Collins tells her son that there is a "sandwich in the Fridge" for him. This sounded anachronistic to me, so I did some Google-searching. Frigidaire was indeed already a popular brand by this point, but I couldn't find any evidence one way or the other as to whether the casual abbreviation "Fridge" was yet current. Anyone?