Changeling review

Has Clint Eastwood just directed Angelina Jolie towards her second Oscar?

Changeling is an emotionally-charged portrayal of a shocking true story, nearly lost forever in the incinerators of Los Angeles City Hall.

Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, a former journalist, stumbled upon a transcript of a city council welfare hearing and was “hooked”. After a year of research, the wheels were set in motion to create what has become a cinematic tribute to one woman, Christine Collins, and her desperate, selfless fight against the corrupt and inhuman 1920s Los Angeles Police Department to find her missing boy.

Produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the key link here is, of course, director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima), who approaches factual-based narrative with real sensitivity, a quality key to this project. He’s, surely, one of the very best directors currently working in Hollywood.

Back to the film, though. On a Saturday in March, 1928, Christine Collins, played by the Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie, leaves for work. The single mother living in suburban Los Angeles says goodbye to her nine year old son, Walter, assuring him that she would be home before dark. However, the catalyst of the years’ events to follow becomes quickly apparent, when upon her return home, the child is missing. For the next five months, Collins lives in a state of despair with no clues or trace of her son’s whereabouts, until one unforgettable day when she is told that he has been found, safe, in Illinois. Nonetheless, when Collins is reunited with Walter, she immediately sees that the wrong boy is standing in front of her.

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With the notoriety the Los Angeles Police Department had gained in an era of scandal and sensational tales of corruption, cover-ups and murder, the relief they felt to have solved such a high profile missing persons case quickly takes a very sinister turn. In the confused reunion hustle of press, police, flash bulbs and questioning reporters, Collins was persuaded that she may, in fact, be mistaken and that she should “try him out for a couple of weeks”.

For three weeks that followed, Collins repeatedly insisted that a mistake had been made, that her son was still missing and that she did not know this child who now called her ‘Mummy’. During this time, Collins was befriended by Reverend Briegleb, played by John Malkovich. A fearless activist intent on revealing the darker side of the LAPD, Briegleb became an instant and constant support to Collins.  

The continual persistence and questioning of a grieving mother becomes a thorn in the side of Captain Jones. To save the embarrassment and further negative press of admitting the mistake of a wrong child being returned, he had Collins committed to a psychopathic ward, where she would spend five harrowing days.

Infuriated by yet another mistake covered up and the distressing treatment served by the police, Briegleb, along with defense attorney, S.S. Hahn, work to release Collins and subsequently bring down the system through the dismissal of senior civic leaders and publicly highlighting the gross misconducts of those set to serve and protect.

This story captivates and moves the viewer, with the fundamental feeling of hope played like a carrot in front of a donkey. As you watch, you find yourself torn by the sorrow, eager for a glimmer of light to shine on the fate of the Collins mother and son.

Jolie’s presence on screen, and her raw, emotional acting style, brings to life the struggle of one woman to overcome her fragility, in a male-dominated world, and to continue in unyielding selfless determination.  A struggle that could not be more deserving of its newly found publicity, after being forgotten about for 80 years.

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4 out of 5