Changeling tells the horrific tale of a courageous woman completely railroaded by the Los Angeles Police Department after she dared to usurp their authority in an attempt to discover the truth about her son’s disappearance. From that description, one might believe that it is an angry and fierce criticism of the L.A.P.D., but it is actually more of a soulful and gentle examination of the loneliness this woman suffers through after her only lifeline is stripped from her embrace. By taking this alternate path, Changeling avoids the clichs that easily could have hampered its ability to tell an affecting and heartbreaking story.
Angelina Jolie gives a quietly passionate and assured performance as Christine Collins, a woman who is still reeling from the abandonment of her husband, clinging only to the love she has for her son, Walter. After Walter goes missing and supposedly returned to her five months later, she is convinced that this is not her son. This causes internal outrage that simply festers and becomes more pervasive as Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) insists not only that the boy is her son but also questions both her love for Walter and her sanity.
Christine’s cause for justice is undertaken by Reverand Gustav Brieglab (John Malkovich), who believes that undermining the corruption of the L.A.P.D. is his right as a citizen and as a man of God. Their progress continues to be stifled by both the police department and the city, which saw this case as a possible public relations nightmare if the truth was revealed. Although the case is considered closed by the chief, one detective (Michael Kelly) decides to follow a lead that came to him from a runaway Canadian child that could be essential in cracking the Collins’ case. The discoveries he makes are chilling and somewhat disturbing, but his persistence in crusading for the truth is a nice complement to the other insidious individuals who encompass the police force.
As the rogue investigation continues, Christine is thrown in the city’s mental health facility for the transgression of continuing to seek justice even when it is almost impossible to attain. Eventually, she is released from the hospital with the help of the Reverand and is determined to fight the unfairness of her plight with the help of an esteemed lawyer (Geoff Pierson). There are two court cases that compose the remainder of the film, which are both captivating in their own way.
Clint Eastwood is a legend both as a director because of the sure hand he exhibits for not over dramatizing material and instead allowing the actors and story to influence the audience’s perceptions. He does this through the calm score and the darkness of the lighting, both exuding a feeling of hopelessness in a world so corrupt that it can only be undone by the sweet sounds of justice.
Although Changeling is a strong effort from this historically great filmmaker, it is not as passionate and urgent as Mystic River or as eloquent and focused as Million Dollar Baby, two masterpieces that have been cornerstones of this decade. The realization that these events were true should send outrage through the psyche of audience members. Changeling tells this story and a more poignant one about a woman who experiences an ordeal so tragic that her heart becomes more accepting of outside sources that consistently ease her turmoil.