I know Ron Howard couldn't direct it, and it seems Clint Eastwood couldn't direct it either. Poor.
Films based on true stories have predetermined burdens to carry; portraying the truth of the situation as it happened, entertaining to audiences whilst being set in a particular time and having the ability to emotionally connect with viewers. Changeling is merely more than adequate on all of these fronts.
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a roller-skating telephone exchange supervisor in 1920's Los Angeles. After shifts, the single mother returns to her small-town home and her quietly independent nine year old son Walter (Gatlin Griffith).
After promising Walter a day at the pictures, Christine is called to fill in a shift. Upon her return Walter is missing, as all mothers would, Christine calls the (less than helpful) Police Department for assistance.
During a time of police brutality, corruption and laziness, Captain J.J Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) heads the police investigation to find Christine's son. After five months of no progression, bad publicity and claims of a failing system, a child (Devon Conti) surfaces across the country who claims to be Walter.
Captain Jones needing the child to help settle rumours brings him to LA in an attempt to reunite him with his relieved mother. However, standing on the platform in front of all the press, what should be a joyous moment for Christine, turns to sour when the boy produced is obviously not her son.
When Christine unequivocally states that the child is not her son, Jones manipulates the distraught mother and states "take him home on a trial basis, see how it goes, he has nowhere else to go" and like any other mother, Christine accepts to take the boy.
No matter that Walter is now three inches shorter than when he left (five months prior), he does not know the basics of his life and he is now circumcised; the police and Captain Jones continue to bully Christine and try to force her into submission.
Christine finally reaches a point where she can no longer tolerate and self-deceit and helped by a crusading radio evangelist, Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) she decides to make her case public.
At this point the film shifts focus, moving from every mother's greatest fear to a horrific nightmare. After Christine's tell all to the press, she is rewarded for her insubordination and is secretly whisked off into a mental hospital for a D12 admittance; a term used for women who have fallen foul of the LAPD.
Surrounded by unyielding matrons and doctors with their own agendas, Christine continues to wail her stance "I want my son back" and for her troubles is hooked up in readiness for electric-shock treatment.
At this late stage (over an hour into the 2 1/2 hour film) a second plot line begins to emerge, offering a new explanation to the location of the Christine's true son. At the same time as Walters disappearance there was a case brought forth on one Gordon Northcott known as 'the chicken coop killer'. Although at the time there was never any solid evidence linking the two cases, this is the path the movie inevitably follows.
Despite its harrowing subject matter; Changeling is utterly unmoving and fails to truly connect with viewers. Eastwood's overdone style is too classical and too restrained to get inside his characters; they feel like well-costumed under directed showroom mannequins.
Strangely trying to reincarnate the success of A mighty heart, Angelina Jolie brings all her superstar-wattage to a role that commands the admiration of a benchmark piece but doesn't have the staying power. Although she is stunning and the use of colour in her lips gives a strong timeline to the film, she does fall short of expectation.
The only acting light is shed by the truly talented Malkovich. Leaving his indelible mark, shining clearly through the uncultured professionalism of his TV cop style co-stars and after school special amateur drama child actors. Whether paedophiles or crooked cops the so-called baddies were woefully bad, leaving little scope for ambiguity or suspense.
The Verdict: With a mood of stateliness bordering on the sleep-inducing leaves audiences cold even in last week's unusual heat wave. Although a solid B movie, any kind of Oscar recognition for it would be a serious mistake.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 13/02/2009