Cannes 2008 diary: 'The Exchange'
Dave Calhoun sees Clint Eastwood's latest, 'The Exchange', as prime Oscar fodder
Clint Eastwood was back at Cannes this week for the first time since ‘Mystic River’ with ‘The Exchange’ (a last-minute name change from 'Changeling'), which is the true story of Christine Collins, a resilient, respectable single mother in Los Angeles in 1928 whose life enters freefall when her eight-year-old son Walter disappears while she’s out doing her job as the well-liked manager of a local telephone exchange.
Matters then take a turn for the worst – and not for the last time in a film of ever-increasing tragedy – when the police return the wrong child to Christine and refuse to believe her protests in case they further tarnish the already sullied reputation of a Los Angeles Police Department whose corrupt and violent behaviour we hear being pilloried by a weekly radio broadcast from a prominent community activist (John Malkovich) who later helps Collins in her fight against injustice.
There’s a pleasing, gentle period feel to the film’s opening scenes as Christine rides a tram through 1920s LA, dressed, as for most of the film, in attractive period garb. But a mournful and increasingly repetitive jazz score hints heavily at sadnesses to come and Eastwood’s decision to linger on young Walter at the window of their home as his mother goes reluctantly to work allows for a poignant image that's suggestive of a nightmare to follow.
The quietness of these early moments are the film's strongest parts; the rest is solid and polite but never especially inspiring. Angelina Jolie plays Christine with grace and precision. Her contribution is a positive one, even though she's sometimes in cahoots with a script that threatens to afford this victim of circumstance, corruption and chauvinism a near-angelic status that distracts from the horror of children being kidnapped and murdered.
The facts of Collins' resistance of institutional indifference and exploitation are certainly extraordinary and wisely rooted by Eastwood and writer J. Michael Straczynski in the very ordinary experience of a woman in a man’s world trying to balance work and family before and after experiencing a tragedy. The film and Collins' feminist credentials are complete in the face of a vicious, corrupt police chief, played in slight pantomime fashion by Jeffrey Donovan, and a child-killer, played with an obligatory crazy grin by Jason Butler Harner, both of whose behaviour are set in strict contrast to the warm humanity of motherhood.
The world of this film is irritatingly neat, with villains in one camp and martyrs and heroes and good folk in the other. It's well-crafted and sensitive but never particularly imaginative or surprising and not nearly as claustrophobic or as chilling as Tom Stern's shadowy photography would suggest.
It seems inevitable that 'The Exchange' will be big news by the time the awards season swings round again in early 2009. It’s a solid film from Clint, not a great one, but one can imagine the Academy voters hovering their pens over the names of Eastwood and Jolie come next January.
Read our review of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Three Monkeys' and Pablo Trapero's 'Lion's Den' here
Author: Dave Calhoun
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’