“Children and mothers never truly part -
Bound in the beating of each other's heart.”
- Charlotte Gray
Based on true story and set in 1928 “Changeling” tells the story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) who, having returned home late from having to work overtime on Saturday, finds her 9 year old son Walter is missing from their home. As the days and weeks go by, the Collins's case becomes the object of a campaign by Pastor Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) who rails against the incompetence and corruption of the Los Angeles police Department. Soon, the police arrive with the news that they have found her boy but when the lad is turned over to her, she realizes that the police have returned a stranger to her in an attempt to bring an end to the public complaints about their handling of her case.
Clint Eastwood's movies had brought me to tears many times. I spent most of the last hour of “Million Dollar Baby” crying, I had tears in my eyes on “Mystic River” and “Perfect World”. But it's very rarely that I feel this clenching sensation in my throat and my heart pounding in despair. There are many moments in “Changeling” when it happened to me, but at the scene where Christine finally erupts with anger, throws a plate against the wall and starts crying in her faint voice for her son back, I've lost it.
There are two biggest assets of the movie – first one is that it's based on actual events. Had it been fictional it would still be devastating, but the movie shows the story of the woman, who went through so much pain, suffering and had to face most of it alone that when you see it, you think it's fiction because it's just too awful to admit that such things happen. Almost everything in this story is petrifying – the corruption of the police, the games the policemen play instead of focusing on finding missing child, the impostor who is completely insensitive to mother's grief, the women trapped in psychiatric institution because they stood up for themselves, the fate of the captured boys who were slaughtered by some stranger on a farm. But because of the movie second's biggest asset – Angelina Jolie's performance as Christine Collins, no matter how the script may be disjointed at times, no matter how Eastwood loses his way and focuses too much on cliches, the drama of this woman remains the movie's core.
Jolie's performance is flawless. It's so intricate and well thought, but at the same time filled with genuine emotions. Christine was a polite and quite woman and in 1920's women didn't have much opportunity to be outspoken or even heard. Yet Christine's quiet rebellion is seen throughout the movie – she is a single mother, she works as a supervisor, she's very honest with her son. At first when her son goes missing and then the police returns her the wrong child and accuses her of being wrong and a bad mother, she's still the woman trapped by her upbringing and the society – she constantly apologizes, thanks the police officer for nothing and even takes care of the boy who is so obviously lying. Everyone keeps telling her that she is crazy and that it is her son, but she doesn't believe them for a second. She knows in her heart that her son is somewhere out there.
So Christine's rebellion, with a little help from the pastor finally stops being quiet. She realizes that her son is still missing and that LAPD is doing horrible things. Christine has an amazing courage and it's not a courage of a woman, it's the courage of the mother who won't admit her son is gone even in order to save her life. One of the most amazing examples of Jolie's work in the film is when the police arrives to tell her they found “Walter” and when she tries to convince the psychiatric ward's chef that she is sane. Look how much Jolie shows in that scene – Christine is trying to be clever, prove the obvious to the doctor, but when he slowly shows her that no matter what she does she's not gonna be released you can see her expression changing to complete hopelessness and desolation. It's hard to even begin to see Lara Croft in Jolie in this movie. When she calls press conference and slowly approaches them in purring rain to say what have happened to her in her apologetic tone and faint voice you have no idea how much bravery and strength hides under that weak exterior. Angelina's hiding her extraordinary beauty, her make up is always smeared from tears and her clothes are anything but sexy. I don't know how much acting talent is in Jolie and how much the fact she had four kids at the time the movie was being shot was helpful here but her work in “Changeling” is so mesmerizing, it deserves all the praise in the world.
Too bad because the performance like this deserves masterpiece of a movie and “Changeling” is far from it. The script is at fault – instead of focusing on one thing – either women situation in 1920's, police's corruption or mother's despair the writer threw in the sequences with the killer on the farm. Jason Butler Harner got amazing reviews from many critics and I don't get it. Yes, it is good performance, but nothing to rave about. And all those sequences, with ghastly farm, kids' bones being dug up, the one and only righteous cop in the entire movie who handles the case are so bland and filled with headache inducing cliches that next to Christine's extraordinary story it feels like two movies chopped and put as one. The killer's character should be included but all the farm scenes? Why? Movie lost a lot of points because of them. I read a bit about the actual story and I found the information that killer's mother helped him with murderers and actually confessed to the murder of Walter Collins.
If the writer and Eastwood wanted to show the story that bad why not show this too? The script is very disappointing. But the redeeming thing is that Eastwood widened his gaze a little bit and instead of focusing just on Christine in his story he showed that she was not alone – all women were treated horrible, like inferior beings. Academy award nominated Amy Ryan brings in another great performance as Carol, prostitute who becomes friends with Christine in the hospital. There are many things that shift this movie from regular story to story for and about women – but the look Carol and Christine share when the women are freed almost makes Eastwood look like feminist. It's not a good thing when the movie is tendentious and “Changeling” most definitely is (best example – the phone call Christine makes right after Walter is gone – all of you and the police are well aware that more time needs to pass than few hours before the cops can start looking for someone, but because of Eastwood and Jolie you totally side with Christine in that moment when she is shocked and doesn't believe what's she's hearing). But in case of movie based on actual events, events that horrible, I'm not going to hold that against the film.
As much as Harner's performance disappointed me, Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the cop who handled the Collins case is amazing. Now that's unforgettable performance – he is cynical and so harsh on Christine, that you just want her to punch him in the face. That performance is riveting and even John Malkovich as the pastor pales in comparison. Malkovich's talent was wasted here, but he brings in few great lines and he is the master of being surprised (It's hard not to laugh at his reaction when captain Jones tells him Christine is in the mental institution).
The movie has very sullen, sad atmosphere built with, at many times, extraordinary cinematography and lovely, subtle music composed by Eastwood himself.
The amount of the horrible things is overwhelming in “Changeling” but Eastwood allows few rays of hope – lovely scenes where Christine looks for evidence that the impostor is not her son, her triumph over LAPD and the ending. In real life Christine Collins never found her son. I can't even imagine the pain and suffering she must have been going through. Every time the phone rung she must have thought it was Walter. The last thing Christine says in the movie is that she has hope. But in reality, in her last moments of life, she knew she never found her son. Eastwood manages to leave the audience with positive message, though – the last line doesn't say “Christine Collins never found her son”. It says “Christine Collins never stopped searching for her son”. Because it's not the movie about finding missing people – it's about fearless love that mother has for her child. There may be no stronger love than this one – after all, people come and go, but no one will ever care about us as much as our mothers do.
* you can also read this review here - http://www.lastfm.pl/user/lady_sati/journal/2010/08/13/3uaz4d_%22changeling%22._the_review.... (read on) (show less)