Changeling

Review by © Jane Freebury

One minute a seductive action hero, next minute a vulnerable woman coping with inexpressible loss, Angelina Jolie on screen has been a changeling herself lately. Few other female actors can do the avenging nemesis better, yet Jolie has also shone in quieter roles like the woman in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart whose husband is kidnapped and murdered. In Clint Eastwood’s latest film, she’s a woman whose son has gone missing. And in both of these movies, a transformation into fierce avenger isn’t an option.

But the changeling here is not the protean Jolie as Mrs Christine Collins, single mother, switchboard supervisor and resident of LA. It is the young boy who pretends to be her missing son. It seems he was adrift in the Midwest – someone else’s missing boy – when police picked him up and determined that he was Collins’ child, despite her protestations. The boy was also prepared to maintain the lie.

At the mother-son reunion, a police PR exercise in front of a thicket of flashing cameras, it was hard to reject the substitute child, even though it turned out he was shorter, didn’t have a gap between his front teeth and there were other significant physical differences. Compelling enough, you would think, but not evidence enough for a police force barely interested in crime, unless it was the type that lined its pockets.

This sober tale – thoughtful, powerful and impeccably made, if a touch laboured – is based on true events that took place in California in 1928, on the brink of the Depression. Christine Collins was lucky enough to have a job and a house in a quiet neighbourhood, but she had to work one Saturday, leaving her 9-year-old at home alone. When she returns, he’s gone. Presumably abducted.

The LAPD weren’t particularly interested in this difficult case of a single mother whose child was missing, though presumably it wasn’t an isolated case while a serial killer (an eerie turn from Jason Butler Harner) was on the loose. She had to defend herself against criminal behaviour by police and psychiatrists, but luckily for her, a Presbyterian pastor (John Malkovich) took up her case, on his crusade against corruption.

After spending half his filmmaking career acting in shoot-‘em-ups, Clint Eastwood continues the roll he’s been on as director ever since he made Play Misty for Me. Now his new Changeling, where corrupt authority is more dangerous than an armed foe, is another wrenching intimate drama with the lean classic lines of his wonderful Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. No frills, just powerful human drama to the core.

In a capsule: A single mother whose son is missing has to deal with the inaction of corrupt police, reject the boy they substitute for her missing child, and suffer brutal measures to keep her silent. Clint Eastwood directs this totally engrossing, if slightly laboured, human drama in his impeccable and majestic style.

4 stars

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