Ealasaid/ November 10, 2008/ Movie Reviews and Features

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore
Rated: R for some violent and disturbing content, and language.
Parental Notes: This is a film aimed squarely at adults. There is some nastiness involving missing and murdered children which, while not graphic, renders the film unsuitable for youngsters — but children of that age would probably find the movie boring anyway.

“Changeling” is the latest film from Clint Eastwood, and while it’s set in the roaring twenties, it’s no lighthearted, zany period piece. It isn’t quite a period thriller, either. It feels more like the unraveling of a sweater: a firm, consistent pull on one thread leads to the popping loose of one connected thing after another until a vast, interconnected web is dismantled.
The single thread is a heartbreaking event: single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) comes home from her job at the telephone company to find that her nine-year-old son Walter is missing. She reports his disappearance to the LAPD, who eventually tell her Walter has been found in Illinois and is on a train home.
But the boy she meets on the train platform is not young Walter Collins. He says he is, and Captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) insists upon it — the LAPD are under fire for corruption and have held this case up as an example of their good work, and Jones has no intention of letting it be turned against them — but Christine knows the truth. Jones bullies her into taking the boy home, but as time passes it becomes very, very clear that he is not her son.
He’s too short, his dental records don’t match, he doesn’t know his classmates, and so on. However, the more Mrs. Collins protests, the harder the LAPD fight her, bringing in faux experts to cast doubts on her abilities as a mother and, when that fails, having her locked up in a mental hospital with other women who have proved inconvenient.
Fortunately for Christine, Gustav Brigleb (John Malkovich), a minister who has made it his mission to bring the corruption of the LAPD to light, has taken an interest in her struggle, and his connections and sheer determination are of immense help. Malkovich is playing against type here, but it works. His anger and ferocity are on the side of good here, and it is a joy to watch Brigleb taking on the establishment with thundering, righteous rage.
If Malkovich embodies the righteous anger of the story, Jolie gives it heart. Her Christine Collins is tenacious and heartbreaking, but not maudlin or sappy. She weeps more than any movie character I have seen in recent years, but her determined refusal to cave in the face of overwhelming opposition is inspiring. Jolie gives her the quiet steel that one imagines a single mother of the time must have needed.
The story, as its opening titles tell us, is based in truth, and the screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski (of “Babylon 5” fame) has a slow, rolling pace which makes it feel more like a miniseries seen in one viewing than a single film. It suits the subject matter, however, and puts us in Christine Collins’ shoes — just when we think it’s all over, yet another rock is overturned.
“Changeling” not a particularly feel-good film; while justice can be said to have triumphed, it is a bittersweet victory. It is, however, a beautifully crafted film and a must-see for fans of serious, artistic filmmaking.

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