In 1928 the disappearance of Christine Collins’ 9-year-old son received nationwide attention in the USA. Also at the time, the Los Angeles Police Department were increasingly being accused of corruption and links to organised crime. In an attempt to drum up some much needed positive publicity the Police Department gave Christine custody of another 9-year-old boy who insisted that he was her son. When Christine refused to accept that this boy was her real son, she was accused of being hysterical and an unfit mother. Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is based on Christine’s story and the horrific series of kidnappings and murders of young boys that later became known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Eastwood explores the injustice done to Christine and her son as a result of ineffective police work, political opportunism, socially ingrained chauvinism and barbaric attitudes towards mental health
Angelina Jolie completely occupies the part of Christine and, as she did in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, demonstrates just how strong a performer she can be. She traverses the full range of emotions that such a role demands, giving Christine just the right amounts of vulnerability and conviction. Michael Kelly (who played an FBI agent in the final season of The Sopranos) is fantastic as Lester Ybarra, the detective who stumbles across the very disturbing explanation for what may have happened to Christine’s real son. Jeffrey Donovan (Michael Westen from Burn Notice) is also terrific as J.J. Jones, the callous Los Angeles Police Captain. The only weak link in the cast is John Malkovich as Gustav Briegleb, a reverend who helps Christine in order to pursue his own mission to bring down the Police Department. Malkovich’s distinctive acting style is just too overbearing and overshadows the character that he is playing.
Changeling is characteristic of Clint Eastwood’s directorial career of meticulous, thoughtful and character driven films. Like many of Eastwood’s films, Changeling is long and unfolds gradually in a manner that less patient audiences may interpret as slow. However, there is nothing dull about this film and it is clearly the work of an experienced filmmaker with a natural instinct for how to craft each scene. Character and plot are central to Changeling and Eastwood has no desire to unnecessarily rush proceedings or explicitly state something that can be otherwise shown. Despite the occasional clunky line and obvious music cue, Changeling suitably stirs up feelings of outrage as well as vindication. Even the series of almost false endings in the final section of the film are palatable as they skilfully undermine any expectations of a clean-cut explanation and resolution.