Changeling was the first movie in a long time that made me actually feel emotion from beginning to end. It was probably a combination of it being a true story, and the absolutely phenomenal acting. This film took Angelina Jolie back to her Girl, Interrupted days of legitimate acting; she was quite honestly the best I have ever seen her. You know, it is not everyday I can say that someone upstaged John Malkovich, but Jolie wiped the floor with him. Not saying Malkovich wasn't his usual brilliant self, but the influence Jolie's character had on my brain and heart was a welcome feeling that I had been missing with current theatrical releases. (Hopefully this will get Lenny finally motivated to write that article on 'true story' films.)
The word "changeling" as explained by our friends at Wikipedia:
A Changeling is a being in West European folklore and folk religion, typically described as the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child.
Changeling is directed by Clint Eastwood, and takes place in late 1920s to mid 1930s Los Angeles. It depicts the true story of the "Wineville Chicken Murders" in Riverside County. It wouldn't really matter to me even if it did, but I could not find any glaring historical inaccuracies. You will even see the difference between the way people treated children and the way men treated women back then, versus present-day cultural standards. Strange to think how corrupt and powerful the police department was back in the day - they are portrayed essentially as mobsters. If you fuck with the police - if you embarrass the department, make them look bad, cause bad press for them, etc. - they send you to an asylum, especially if you are a woman. While the police chief, played by Colm Feore, is the Puppet Master behind all the corruption and racketeering, his captain, played by Jeffrey Donovan, is the Puppet he uses to produce the results.
The story revolves around Angelina Jolie's character, Christine Collins. Christine is a single mother of one, who is the supervisor at a telephone switchboard center. I found it interesting that the supervisors wore roller skates to get around faster. There is nothing more important in Christine's life than her son, and Jolie really made you feel a true connection between mother and son. One unfortunate weekend, Christine has to fill-in for someone at work, misses the trolley home, and when she finally does get back, her son is missing. It bothered me that, while she did look all around the neighborhood, there was no scene/mention that she asked her neighbor - who was loosely watching over her son - if she happened to see where he went (small gripe, but it irked me). The police are of no help, and give her shit about assuming they would come over right away, rather than wait the usual 24 hours to start a case. They finally do make it out to her house, and file the report to start an investigation.
Months pass, and pressure builds on the police department to find Christine's son. We see shots of Christine calling city-after-city, on her lunch breaks at work, to see if there are any missing children found. Captain J.J. Jones (Donovan) is advised by the police chief that this case absolutely needs to end, and they need to find that boy (you kind of get a "one way or another" feel about this order). Well, the police do find a boy, he just is not Christine's son. When Christine starts giving him grief, Captain Jones insists that boys will look and sound different after 5 months, at such a young age. More and more obvious signs point to this not being Christine's son, which Reverend Gustav Briegleb (played by John Malkovich) catches wind of.
Reverend Briegleb is an activist, fighting against the corrupt police department, both by helping right wrongs, and by making the general public aware of wrong-doing in his sermons and via his radio broadcasts When Briegleb heard about how the police were handling the case of Christine Collins' missing son, he offered her help. For having such an important role in getting this case solved, I was a little disappointed with the minimal screen-time Malkovich had. After Captain Jones made the decision to "quiet" Christine's constant pleas of finding her son, by throwing her in an asylum, Reverend Briegleb really stepped in to save the day with his political influence.
Detective Lester Ybarra, played beautifully by Michael Kelly, seems to be the only person on the police force that is not on-the-take, and actually looking to help people; although he is a little rough around the edges, and mainly does what he is told by Captain Jones, at the end of the day, he means well and comes through in the clutch. Another case that Detective Ybarra was working on leads to the case of Christine's missing son being solved, but I feel as though I would be doing you a dis-service if I gave away anymore of the story. The only other thing I will mention is my favorite shot of the film: Detective Ybarra was listening to a child's testimony that broke the case open, and the camera moves over to his cigarette just developing two inches of ash, as he stopped smoking it during this chilling scene. It just gives me goose bumps thinking about it again.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of child actors. I can deal with them on TV shows, but typically in movies they will always leave a bad taste in my mouth (insert pedo jokes). But truth be told, not only was I not bothered by the several child actors in Changeling, I actually thought they delivered amazing roles. The role's played by Christine's son, her "fake" son, and the child that helped break open the case with his testimony to Detective Ybarra, were all perfect - I could not have asked for more out of them. Jolie played possibly the best role of her career, even out-doing her parts in The Good Shepherd, and Girl, Interrupted. Malkovich is always good, so it almost feels redundant to praise him - it's like telling Wayne Gretzky he had a great game...the fact that he played means we can assume he played well. I haven't seen Jeffrey Donovan much, and from what I can find out about him online, he has played mainly TV roles, which would explain why he is a bit of an unknown to me, since I don't watch TV.
My hats off to Clint Eastwood. No scene missed a beat, the atmosphere and environment were flawless, and he let the actors create the drama and emotion. From beginning to end, the film revolved around brilliant acting, held a really good pace (especially for a long movie) and had an amazing story that I am glad was told. The only complaint I heard of anyone else who has seen it is how long it is, which is hogwash. Yes, the film is long, but you know this going into it, so if you don't like long movies, don't see Changeling. I sincerely hope that will not deter you from checking it out, because it is easily the best movie I have seen of 2008.