Jolie scores big in ‘Changeling’
In folklore, a changeling refers to the offspring of a fairy, elf or troll that is substituted for a human child unbeknownst to his or her parents. The original child would then be taken by the mythical creature for its own nefarious purposes, never to return home.
Changeling recounts the true story of Walter Collins (Gattlin Griffith), a 9-year-old boy who disappears from his home in the late 1920s. While the circumstances of Walter’s case are far from supernatural, the changeling analogy comes into play once the Los Angeles Police Department, after a five-month search, claims to have found Walter and presents the child to his mother Christine (Angelina Jolie).
Despite the department’s insistence that the boy is hers, Ms. Collins has her doubts. In addition to several physical differences, both obvious and obscure, his personality is quite unlike the Walter that Christine knew, and the child seems to have little memory of specific details about his life.
Aided by the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a community activist who has taken it upon himself to shine light on the wrongdoings of the corrupt police department, Ms. Collins begins an exhaustive effort to uncover the truth behind her son’s disappearance and subsequent "recovery."
Blocked at almost every turn, Collins soon realizes her situation is only a small sample of the unjust system and faces levels of prejudice that were a sad but true byproduct of a time when women’s (and children’s) rights still had a long way to go.
Despite the tragic nature of the Walter Collins case, it can also be seen as a testament that, as the Rev. Briegleb says in the film, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Ms. Collins’ experiences would go on to help expose the deep-seated corruption of the LAPD and lead to massive reforms that would clean up Los Angeles and free its citizens from the tyrannical hierarchy of the police force.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Changeling is a good fit for his style. There is no glamour here; while the 1920s setting is beautifully realized – the attention to detail is excellent – it never takes one’s attention away from the drama of the story, and in fact enhances it.
As with most of his films, Eastwood provides the musical score in addition to directing. Consisting of little more than a slow, simple melody repeated throughout the film, it is effective in creating the desired mood and atmosphere. However, one wonders how the score of an Eastwood film would fare with a different, more traditional composer at the helm.
The acting is excellent throughout, and the film has the prospect of several Oscar nominations. Jolie’s portrayal of Ms. Collins is at the heart and soul of the film. Jolie effectively displays a wide range of emotional states from a distraught mother coping with a missing child, to a defiant activist standing up to abusive authority figures.
Malkovich does well in the relatively small but important role of the Rev. Briegleb, and while he always excels at playing the villain, it’s refreshing to seem him as a good guy every now and then. The child actors also deserve much praise; Gattlin Griffith, Devon Conti and Eddie Alderson all deliver great performances essential to a film where children play an integral role. Alderson is especially impressive during one scene when he masterfully portrays an emotional breakdown.
Rated R for violent and disturbing content and language, Changeling runs a bit long at 141 minutes, but on the whole is a well-crafted film with a compelling story and is another in a long line of directorial successes for Eastwood.