Changeling, The Wrestler

Sometimes the ending makes a movie. Sometimes it breaks it. I recently saw one of each kind.

Changeling (2008) stars Angelina Jolie as a mom in desperate search of a child. I watched a "for your consideration" screener. The movie is so long (141 minutes) that it's split across two discs.

I watched the first disc one night, and went to bed thinking this was something very, very special. Jolie did a superb job, and I was completely sold and intrigued by the improbable premise. At times it seemed almost like an M. Night Shyamalan story (the good kind, back before he became a self-referential joke) shot with the economical sensibilities and gritty reality of a Clint Eastwood movie (which it is).

Then, on a later night, I watched the second disc. The story ended with a suspenseful and exciting courtroom scene. The movie, unfortunately, continued on for another half hour. That really undid all that had been created before.

Admittedly the most powerful scene of the movie, a jailhouse confrontation, occurs in that last part. It would have been a sad loss, but a surgical cut might have saved the movie. The final attempt at uplift and inspiration could have been ripped right from the Ron Howard production manual—which may have in fact happened, seeing he was a producer.

What a disappointment: a great movie undone by its ending.

The Wrestler (2008) stars Mickey Rourke as a washed up professional wrestler, trying to salvage a life at the end of his career. It's an amazing portrayal, and, unlike Changeling, the movie never panders to inspiration or comfort.

I cannot recommend this movie more highly. It may be my favorite narrative movie of 2008.

I want to warn you that I found two bits of the movie very difficult due to the violence. You'll know where they are. Director Aronofsky telegraphs their presence.

In some ways, The Wrestler reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Cooler starring William H. Macy. Both movies are about losers, who may or may not find redemption in love. Each movie has a great scene where the main character has a flirt with winning. In The Wrestler it occurs at the deli counter. In The Cooler it occurs one morning, played over Almost Like Being in Love in the soundtrack.

Whereas Changeling answers all questions, including some that you never even asked, The Wrestler leaves it to you to give the final answer. There is, however, only one answer, and it's both heartbreaking and satisfying.

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That's a shame, I was really looking forward to seeing the Changeling, it looked intense. I heard a very similar (but true) story on This American Life that you might be interested in. It aired earlier this year and was called The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.