“Changeling” (2008) – 4/5 Stars


“Changeling” reminds me a lot of 1997 thriller “L.A Confidential” in that it deals with police corruption and P.Ds’ frightening level of power. The problem with that is “Changeling” takes place about 25 years earlier — same police department, same problems, different era. It’s unfortunate how incompetent our criminal justice system was and in many ways still is and that’s what makes “Changeling” such a difficult film to stomach. It invokes rage, sadness, disgust and sympathy — and when you’ve had enough it keeps going. But it’s a beautifully realized period piece and a quality film from all aspects.

Although “Changeling” earned Oscar nominations in deserved categories such as cinematography and art direction, it’s hard to understand why there wasn’t any love for J. Michael Straczynski’s thoroughly reported original screenplay. This is one of those stories that’s so unbelievable and so unsettling that you can’t make it up and despite its length, Straczynski tells it in a compelling and emotional way.

“Changeling” is about Christine Collins (Jolie), an L.A. single mother whose son Walter disappears for several months. When the police find him, she insists right away that he’s not her son and the police department insists that she’s wrong. When the case builds in publicity, she’s shipped off to a psychiatric hospital, but a politically passionate reverend (John Malkovich) as well as a young boy’s story might uncover the truth.

There are so many painful and uncomfortable elements to this story that you wish it weren’t true. You almost want to be spared the emotional agony of all the lying, corruption, torture and death. It’s by no means a horror movie, of course, but each subject matter is heavy. Part of the film, for example, deals with the case of a serial murderer who has killed children. That’s weighty stuff, and while it stirs up our emotions and makes the film more powerful, it doesn’t change that it’s tough to bear.

Director Clint Eastwood and star Angelina Jolie are an excellent match in this film. They try and plant us deep down within Christine Collins without overplaying the clichés of a woman who cries wolf but the powers that be declare her insane. Knowing Collins is a self- sustaining single mother, Jolie plays her with much more inner resilience. Eastwood includes her face at nearly every juncture of the main story’s aftermath and you get the perfect sense of how she’s feeling. That’s critical because despite all the corruption and intrigue of the story, this is still her life and livelihood here. No one has more at stake than she does.

This troubling true story is top-notch film-making, an exquisite stone lost beneath a pile of rare and more exotic cinematic gems that comprised the great year for film that was 2008. The costumes and period detail is vivid and Eastwood’s cinematographer Tom Stern does some of his finest work wrapping characters in the shadows of this harrowing film.

4/5 Stars

Changeling (2008)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich


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