Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2008. Imagine Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, Relativity Media. Screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz. Music by Clint Eastwood. Production Design by James J. Murakami. Costume Design by Deborah Hopper. Film Editing by Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Academy Awards 2008. Cannes Film Festival 2008. Golden Globe Awards 2008.
Clint Eastwood goes the tearjerker route with this surprisingly effective melodrama based on a true story. If for no other reason, he gets major points for not putting “Based On A True Story” before the opening credits and, as so many films before have done, demanding a level of respect (and gullibility) from audiences that the actual viewing process doesn’t earn. Angelina Jolie gives a masterful performance as a single mother in 1928 who takes an extra shift at the phone company where she works and comes home to find her son missing. Immediately getting the police involved in the investigation of his kidnapping, she is naturally traumatized by the experience until a few months later when the police bring her good news: they have found her little boy and he is safe. When she arrives at the train station, however, she points out that the little boy that the highly unpopular, media-criticized LAPD have brought home isn’t her son. The authorities tell her that she is mistaken and chalk it up to emotional issues while Jolie goes on with the search to find her actual kid. To say any more about the plot would be to ruin the pleasure of experiencing it, but suffice it to say that what this woman thought was the end of her nightmare turns out to be the beginning of a much more harrowing one. Eastwood emphasizes a realistic, unsensational way to reveal this highly charismatic story, one whose many twists and turns would be considered far too arch for fiction were it not inspired by real life. Where the film falters, and only slightly, is in its desire to include too much plot: it’s hard to tell what the central pivot of the story is given how many places it goes. This is a small criticism, however, since Jolie’s incredible work (boy can that lady stare) keeps it all grounded and never lets the film get out of control: look at the effective way she plays a woman speaking to the press for the first time–for a gal whose every coffee break has been front page news for years by the time of this film’s release, it’s incredible that she was able to manage such convincing shyness. However much it gets tangled, there’s no part of the film that isn’t fascinating, and even if it is too long in the telling it’s not something you’ll want to walk away from before it’s over.