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Changeling

USA 2008
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
141 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Changeling

Synopsis: Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie). a working single mother, leaves her 9-year-old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith) alone when she is called in on a Saturday. She returns to find the boy gone. Five months later the Los Angeles Police Department contact Christine with good news – her son is alive and well. But when the boy is returned to her she knows this supposed Walter (Devon Conti) is not her son. Bullied by the police into taking this lad in, she embarks upon a gruelling quest to find the truth. Aided by the crusading minister Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovitch) she battles the corrupt LAPD, headed by Capt. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), and the nightmarish public psychiatric system in which women creating any problems for the police are declared mad and locked away.

Screenwriter Michael Straczynski stumbled across this true story by accident shortly before the LA City Hall was about to incinerate some of its records. The incredible story of one woman’s seven-year fight against bureaucracy spoke to him of fabulous fodder for a script and indeed it is just that. This story is at once terrifying, inspiring and despite its historical setting, still relevant in the sense that small people going up against ‘the machine’ need all the courage and support they can get.

The film works marvellously on so many levels and is again testament to Eastwood’s sure hand as a director. It is a film that gets you totally up in arms against corruption (the LAPD has been a well-used example of this in so many films over the years). It is also heartbreaking in the scenes of the inhumane treatment of the women in the psychiatric institution into which Christine is thrown, all on the signature of a corrupt cop who simply wants to get her out of sight lest she expose his incompetence. Changeling also functions splendidly as a thriller, with tension and fear for young Walter built up from the early scenes. And the thriller element really hots up when one of the (non-corrupt) investigating police discovers a possible link to a creepy serial killer, Gordon Northcott (played chillingly by Jason Butler Harner).

The casting is quite faultless. Angelina Jolie eschews her sex-symbol persona for a serious and determined character with the strength to bring down a police department. John Malkovitch, for my vote one of the best actors of the modern era, is mesmerising as the crusading Reverend, who wages a relentless battle via radio and his pulpit against a police force he perceives as deeply corrupt. He also becomes a true friend to Collins. The power-hungry Jones is finely executed by Donovan, as are the assorted harsh nurses and doctors running the asylum. Of note is a small role, Carol Dexter (Amy Ryan), a fellow inmate in the asylum, another strong and feisty woman, determined to fight against those corrupt cops who use their power “to create insane woman”.

Jolie has just been nominated for a Best Actress award, and the film has another two nominations for cinematography and art direction, all justly deserved, as Los Angeles in the 1920s comes to vivid life.

Despite being a long film, Changeling holds one’s attention until the very end, which goes years beyond the main focus of the plot and gives deeper retrospective insights into what really happened. Although the subject matter may be distressing to some, the film represents the best sort of film-making – taking the truth, with fine actors and a top director, and setting it up on the big screen in a way that entertains and inspires.

 

 

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