HASH(0xb201800) Reviews

HASH(0xb201800)

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A frustrating experience, and ultimately unsatisfying

Oct 16, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Harner, Malkovich, period detail

Cons:Unfocused, contrived, Jolie

The Bottom Line: There’s interesting stuff in here, but ultimately it never settles on a central idea, and is full of unforgivable contrivances that ultimately sink its potential.


Single mum and 1920s phone operator Angelina Jolie’s 9 year-old son Walter (the peculiarly named Gattlin Griffith) disappears suddenly, and the film follows her quest to find her son, amidst the shockingly corrupt practices and incompetent bungling of the LAPD (headed by the corrupt Colm Feore and his callous Captain Jeffrey Donovan). Months after Walter’s disappearance, Donovan produces a boy he claims is Walter, and the publicity seeking LAPD make a big hoopla about the mother-son reunion. Problem is, he’s shorter, has different dental records, and is not recognised by his teacher. Oh, and his mother says the kid isn’t hers.

But the patronising and heartless Donovan (interested in not having the LAPD’s increasingly dubious reputation further sullied) just says that’s kooky talk, and after she embarrasses the cops by going to the press, Donovan organises to have Jolie committed to an insane asylum (Doesn’t Jolie have any friends or family who can back her up? Seems odd). Nah, a mother wouldn’t recognise her own son, y’all know how women are! But her cause is picked up by crusading radio preacher John Malkovich (doing the humourless, ranting self-righteousness crusader of ‘the people’ thing rather well), who rallies against police corruption, and then there’s the one good cop (Michael Kelly) who is investigating a serial killer case that may have some connection. Geoff Pierson plays Jolie’s high profile lawyer, Jason Butler Harner plays a slimy nutjob whom Kelly runs into, and Amy Ryan a clichéd tough asylum inmate.

This Clint Eastwood (“Play Misty For Me”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Mystic River”) film never seems to settle on a genre, but has nice period detail at least. Is it a heart-tugging (and Oscar-baiting) real-life drama about a distraught mother and her missing kid? A condemnation of police corruption? Or a serial killer flick? Well, it’s all three, and the only genre that it seems to succeed in is the third one, thanks to a sometimes hammy but genuinely unsettling turn by Harner as a truly pathetic killer. But sadly, that’s only in the film’s final stages, despite being fascinating enough to warrant its own movie. Before that we have to witness a hard-working  but unconvincing and dull Jolie attempting to play a 1920s mother and telephone operator. She sure plays the whole screaming, teary-eyed ‘Gimme back my son!’ scene for all the over-emoting it’s worth and tries gallantly to be mousy the rest of the time, but ultimately fails. And we also get a tale of police corruption that would seem absolutely laughable (at its absolute worst when the boo-hiss Donovan has Jolie committed to a mental asylum straight out of 1940s melodrama!) if you weren’t aware that it was based on fact. That’s right, it’s based on true incidents!

It’s just so one-sided and the cop characters (save Kelly’s dogged, crusading detective) might as well have twirling moustaches and dunces caps for all of their Machiavellian scheming and procedural incompetence. I didn’t buy Jolie despite her being a mother in real-life and earning an Oscar nom here. Jennifer Connelly would’ve owned this. I didn’t buy the circumstances, for much the same reasons I never bought the slightly similar and disappointing, real-life inspired “Sommersby”, it’s just such a stupid idea to ask us to accept, real or not. And ultimately the film just didn’t work for me much. I kept saying ‘Oh come on’ at every turn (did I mention this is based on fact?), and it also seems to go on and on a bit.

But like I said, Harner’s excellent (the dude might just be the modern Dan Duryea), Malkovich is impassioned (but underused) in a rare good guy part, and Pierson has a good scene or two. The contrived screenplay is by J. Michael Straczynski, strangely the creator of TV’s cultish sci-fi show “Babylon 5” (and a veteran TV writer making his film debut). Not one of Clint’s finest hours, I’m afraid, but hey, it ain’t “Heartbreak Ridge” or “The Rookie”, either, and we can all be thankful for that.


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