Herald rating: * *
Verdict: Jolie is way OTT in a glum overblown drama.
The second film in two weeks from veteran Eastwood does more than plead with Academy voters to pick Jolie as best actress; it browbeats them. A vote for anyone else, her tearful performance seems to tell us, would be a vote for child abuse.
In a film that calls itself "a true story" (no "based on" disclaimers here), she plays Christine Collins, a solo mum in LA in 1928 whose nine-year-old son, Walter, disappears while she is at work.
The initial condescending indifference of the police - the little scamp will show up, they say - foreshadows a later response much more malevolent. But when they announce that they have found Walter in Illinois and stage a public reunion amid press fanfare, things get really messy.
In short, Christine knows the boy is not her son and her objections are treated as deluded, then hysterical and then dangerously lunatic.
It's a story dramatic enough to tell straight, but Eastwood shoots it as a horror movie, full of dark shadows and ghostly thugs in white coats, and it's gloomy, glum and depressing.
Malkovich plays a crusading priest dedicated to exposing corruption in the LAPD but his monotones and too-steady stare make him more scary than the villains and we keep wanting to scream at Christine to get away from him.
She wouldn't have heard us above her own noise. Her overblown act, which relies on bellowing "What have you done with my son?" in a variety of locations, has all the nuance of her work as Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. It's a shrill, one-note performance which makes us wish they would give her kid back so she would shut the hell up.
Worst of all, when the film reaches some sort of resolution, J. Michael Straczynski's ponderous, opaque script launches into an entirely new narrative, a police procedural in which a good cop (Kelly) wants to find out what happened. Not as long as Ben Hur, but it sure seems like it. Lovely costume and production design, though.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Colm Feore
Director: Clint Eastwood
Running time: 140 mins
Rating: R16 (violence & content that may disturb)
Screening: Skycity, Hoyts, Berkeley