In 1928 Los Angeles, single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) comes home from work one evening to discover her 9 year old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is missing. As the unhelpful police find nothing, her early concerns turn to anguish. Five months after Walter's disappearance, the police - with much press fanfare - find a boy and insist it's Walter, anxious to get some good publicity to help their tarnished image. But Christine insists the boy isn't Walter. Determined to keep the story intact, Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) orders Christine to be put in a psychiatric hospital on the basis that she is delusional. Anti-police corruption crusading broadcaster The Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) comes to her aid, but Christine remains defiantly hopeful of finding her son. When another young boy (Eddie Alderson) comes forward with evidence to link his uncle, Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) to as many as 20 dead boys, Christine has to endure the trial and continuing uncertainty.
Review by Louise Keller:
Changeling is unforgettable. Unforgettable for its extraordinary story; unforgettable for Angelina Jolie's haunting performance; unforgettable for its subtly beautiful cinematography denoting its 1920s setting; unforgettable for Clint Eastwood's masterful filmmaking and the simplicity with which he tells the tale. But most of all, Changeling is unforgettable for its impact. This heart-rending story could only be true, so bizarre are the elements - a missing child, a mother's unyielding love, corruption, manipulation, murder.
The day begins and ends like any other day. There's the sound of the alarm clock, waking a sleepy child, cereal for breakfast and the rattling streetcar to school. We can imagine many such days as we watch Jolie's single mother Christine Collins who clearly lives for her son. We feel her angst when she comes home the following day to find an empty house, an uneaten sandwich in the fridge and a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach when she discovers her son is missing. Eastwood's handling of the pivotal scene in which the police take Christine to the railway station to be reunited with her missing son only to discover it is not her son, is perfect, making us as troubled and uncertain as the distraught mother. Ugly issues of police corruption, the horrors of forcible incarceration in a psychiatric institution, the unexpected support of an activist Presbyterian minister (John Malkovich) and a juvenile runaway lock our attention as the powerful and disturbing story unfolds.
The ethereal beauty of Jolie wearing a cloche and huge red lips counters Christine's strength as she demonstrates her will to 'Never start a fight, but always finish it,' a sentiment she used to tell her son Walter (Gattlin Griffith). Cinematographer Tom Stern who has shot many Eastwood films including Million Dollar Baby, paints his muted palette reminiscent of the times, punctuated with splashes of colour (like Jolie's lips) as beacons of hope. Eastwood's sweetly melancholy music meanwhile, comforts our souls. A devastating and touching story, beautifully told by a filmmaker still at the top of his game.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Stranger than fiction .... and more powerful for it, Changeling is a challenging and appalling story; appalling for the fact that Los Angeles police could behave in such draconian manner, especially in the case of a distraught mother desperate to find her missing 9 year old son. The case eventually led to changes in the law and to the sacking of senior police, as well as the end of the then Mayor's political career. This amazing but true story was picked up by producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, who invited Clint Eastwood to direct it. They also offered the lead role to Angelina Jolie, and after reading the script on his flight back from Berlin, Eastwood said yes. It was an easy decision: the story is riveting, J. Michael Straczynski's screenplay is compelling and Jolie is a terrific actress.
She brings every ounce of motherly love and anguish to a role that requires her to be distressed for much of the film. She also brings a nobility to Christine that grows as her suffering grows. Eastwood pushes the villains to the max: Jeffrey Donovan is arrogantly vile as Capt. Jones, who seems bereft of humanity as he tries to defend the police force in unacceptable ways; Colm Feore, as his superior, is equally adamant to push the dirt under the carpet, with no regard for justice or for Christine. Also excellent and hatefully so are the actors playing amoral doctors supportive of the corrupt cops, Denis O'Hare as the psychiatric hospital's nasty piece of work, Peter Gerety and John Harrington Bland.
John Malkovich brings his considerable authority to the role of the crusading pastor whose pulpit is armed with a radio station microphone that rails against the corrupt and vicious cops who run Los Angeles like some crime gang might.
The muted colours, the simple but effective period design and the plot driven editing grab our attention and our emotions with a firm grip as Eastwood tells the story from Christine's point of view. What other view could possible be as valid? The trauma she suffers is almost tangible as it pours off the screen; but Eastwood makes sure this is not just a melodrama about a missing boy. It's also a well argued indictment of the people who ran a system that was self serving to the point of being evil. And these were men (and a few women) who had the authority to be bullies, ignoring their responsibilities to protect. There is a magnificent, ironic scene when Capt. Jones admonishes Christine, accusing her of lying so she can avoid her motherly responsibilities. It almost made me jump up and smack him on the screen nose.
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CAST: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Denis O'Hare, Michael Kelly, Gattlin Griffith, Devon Conti, Peter Gerety, John Harrington Bland, Colm Feore, Jason Butler Harner, Reed Birney, Peter Breitmeyer, Lily Knight, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Mary Stein, Asher Axe
PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: J. Michael Straczynski
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach
MUSIC: Clint Eastwood
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James J. Murakami
RUNNING TIME: 141 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 5, 2009