When single mother Christine Collins (Jolie) leaves for work, her son vanishes without a trace. Five months later, the police reunite mother and son; but he isn't her boy. Driven by one woman's relentless quest for the truth, the case exposes a world of corruption, captivates the public and changes LA forever.
Clint Eastwood’s mastery as a director, established over the past decade and a half with Unforgiven
, Million Dollar Baby
, Letters from Iwo Jima
, and others, continues with Changeling
, a 2008 offering based on a shocking but all-too-true story about child abduction and police corruption in 1920s Los Angeles. Single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie, excellent in a role with somewhat limited parameters) finds her 9-year-old son, Walter, missing when she returns home from work one day. She files a report with the Los Angeles Police Department, an outfit that was wildly unpopular at the time (in his regular radio broadcast, a crusading pastor played by John Malkovich decries the force as "violent and corrupt," adding that "our protectors are our brutalizers"). When a child roughly matching Walter’s description turns up in Illinois five months later, the LAPD, intent on salvaging its tattered reputation, is only too eager to claim that he is Collins’ missing child. Little matters that he’s three inches shorter, is circumcised (Walter wasn’t), and fails to pass muster with Walter’s dentist, schoolteacher, and others; the cops, in particular the odious Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), insist that the mistake is Christine’s, not theirs. What follows is almost too nightmarish to believe--except that it actually happened. Exasperated by Collins’ continued claim that "Walter" is a fraud, they trot out a doctor to reinforce the bogus ID, declare her unfit as a mother, and finally have her committed to a local psychopathic ward. Through it all, Collins, bolstered by the pastor and thousands of outraged Angelenos, refuses to sign a document that would exonerate the police for their egregious error. As for Walter, it’s only when the LAPD’s seemingly only honest detective (Michael Kelly) takes matters into his own hands that the grisly mystery of the child’s fate begins to be solved. That would have been a good place for the film to conclude, too. Unfortunately, it goes on for more than another half hour, with innumerable false endings that add nothing to the story and could just as easily have been summarized with a few sentences before the final credits. That flaw aside (and it’s a major one), Changeling
is a powerful film, with a realistic period feel, a wonderfully muted vibe and color palette, and an understated score by Eastwood himself. --Sam Graham
Stills from Changeling (Click for larger image)