Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Running Time: 2:20
for some violent and disturbing content,
Changeling was a spotless film filled with powerful performances.
In March of 1928, 9-year-old Walter Collins was abducted from his house in California. His mother, Christine, spent months doing everything she could to find him and then one August day the police called to say they had found Walter. Christine ran to the train station to meet her son only to find out, it wasn't him. But the police continued to insist that this in fact was her son, no matter what she said. The fact that this new boy was circumcised or three inches shorter than Walter didn't deter the police. At the time (and at various times since) the LAPD didn't have the greatest of reputations, and to admit that they found the wrong boy would have been a big black eye. No matter what Christine did, no matter what evidence she produced, the police continued to say this boy was her son. They even went so far as to put her into a hospital for a mental evaluation. But in a shocking turn of events, the police were forced to admit their mistake. Christine was vindicated and in turn, sued the LAPD leading to changes in procedures and the law which are felt today.
Changeling is based on a true story and from what I've read, the movie is taken almost exactly from the real life events. Certain people were combined into a single character but for the most part, everything seen on screen actually happened. And that is a horrible tragedy. If you don't know the story the movie is based on, you, like I, will be blindsided by the turn the story takes. And I will more or less ruin it for you right now, so skip to the end of you want to go in blind. While the movie starts off as a bizarre tale of a woman who is given the wrong boy, it takes a turn towards serial murders that is impossible to predict. What was it that finally made the police admit that the boy they brought to Christine wasn't Walter? The fact that another young boy admitted that he and his uncle killed almost 20 boys on the Uncle's farm. That portion of the story literally comes out of nowhere. It's thrown in at one point with seemingly no connection to what I thought was the main story - Christine looking for her son.
It's not often I'm sitting through a movie and it takes a turn that's makes me sit up and take notice. I somehow seem to have missed the last few Clint Eastwood films, but from what I've been told he tends to do that, especially with something like Million Dollar Baby. I know how that movie ends which is why I haven't gotten around to seeing it, but that too starts off in one direction then midway through changes pace. And yet, much like in Changeling, the stories are connected. The serial killer in question did in fact kidnap Walter and bring him back to his farm/ranch to kill him. But Walter's bones are never found so the question of what happened to him remains to this day.
So as I said in the opening, the movie was pretty spotless. Visually it felt like you were back in the late 20s/early 30s. The costumes and the sets were wonderful and the film had a old, gritty feel to it. It wasn't a sharp, clean picture like you'd see on your superhero movies. The music, composed by Eastwood, was very simple but fit the tone of the film perfectly. The pacing of the film and the direction were also well done. The movie clocks in at 140 minutes but you never feel like you're sitting for that long. The story takes so many twists and turns that you can't help but wonder where on Earth it's going next. And yet, even while being blindsided by the main twist, everything does fit together. I've read how Eastwood is a very quick and easygoing director. You do one or two takes then you move on. There were stories how in some scenes he'd have Angelina Jolie act just for him, but he'd have the cameras rolling and used the footage in the film. He's a man who knows what he wants and must prepare for a long time beforehand and put his trust in his actors to get things done.
Then there were the actors. It's a rare film where there are no weak links. Angelina Jolie was pitch perfect as the grieving mother searching for her son (and keep a count of how many times she says the words 'my son'). She looks like she's from that era and the movie didn't play up her sexuality at all. The woman married to Brad Pitt disappeared and instead the Academy Award winning actress came out. The focus of the story shifted off of her for a while so it didn't feel like she was in the entire movie, but she owned the screen when she was there. A whole host of actors had smaller and pivotal roles. John Malkovich played a crusading preacher who helped reign in the LAPD. Amy Ryan played a patient at the hospital with Christine. Jeffrey Donovan was the police captain who refused over and over to listen to Christine. And in one of the creepiest performances of the year, Jason Butler Harner played the serial killer. Every single actor was on point and just made the film that much better.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Changeling more than I thought I would. While the story isn't what I was prepared for, it held my attention for the entire 2+ hours. It didn't leave me feeling like it was the greatest film of the year, but it was definitely one of the better ones.
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