Changeling: Compelling retelling of mother’s fight for truth

2009-02-22 00:00

Film: Changeling


If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t guess that this is a Clint Eastwood movie. The only clue, if you thought long enough about it, is that there’s a trademark dryness about how he presents the story, even when it’s lush or dramatic.

Angelina Jolie plays a single mother (Christine) whose son Walter goes missing in Los Angeles in 1928. The plot breaks up into four phases. In the first, there’s the intrigue of what might have happened. In the second, the police bring home a boy they claim is Walter, but who Christine insists is not, which places her in conflict with the might of a very corrupt and very brutal LAPD.

It’s plain that he’s not, but who he in fact is is a mystery in itself. The even bigger question is what forces have conspired to place him in this situation. I kept feeling that he was going to pull a Chucky. There’s an abrupt, shocking shift in phase three into a parallel tale of a serial killer who may or may not be linked to the disappearance of Walter, and finally there’s the climax in which justice triumphs, in a way, over a conspiracy of police and political thuggery.

The events are based on fact, and they are gruelling and compelling to watch. The telling is understated except for brief outbursts of melodrama, and the portrayal of Jolie’s character especially is stylised, making for a muted, strangely ethereal mood. Jolie ranges from aloof and in command, to flustered and timid, to eventually angry and resolved in a way that makes it easy to agree with her Oscar nomination, although not quite powerful enough to clinch it, I don’t think.

(You’ll know by the time you read this whether I’ve made an idiotic prediction). But then, it would take a real effort to mess up such a searing, wrenching account of an individual jammed between a tragic event and a callous system from which there appears to be no escape.


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