The powerful true story of the courageous woman who was the first to stand up to the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department in the 1920s, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, is an intensely emotional experience that is hard to watch and hard to stop watching all in the same breath.
Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single working mother in 1928 Los Angeles who finds herself caught in every parent’s worst nightmare when her nine-year-old son, Walter, goes missing in broad daylight. When the LAPD, who were mired in scandal and corruption during this time, fail to find the missing child after five months, and with public pressure mounting, they attempt to pass off another boy on Collins, labelling her as an unfit, mentally unstable, mother to the press when she begins claiming the boy is not her son. As she battles for justice against the department (along with a crusading pastor played by John Malkovich ), who are refusing to continue the search for her son, she finds herself thrown into a mental hospital where she is surrounded by other women who, much like herself, have been punished for trying to stand up against the law.
So emotionally gripping was the film that, as the viewer, I actually had to remind myself a number of times that it is a true story because it seems that unbelievable. Even more alarming is that the story sticks so frighteningly close to the real story that it is billed as being “a true story” not just “based on a true story”.
Chalked full of Oscar-worthy performances, if Jolie gets overlooked by the Academy (which some predict she will for being‘ too beautiful’ to have portrayed the plain Jane that was the real Collins ), it just might be the biggest tragedy of the year. Her anguished, authentic performance far removes her from the superstar face we see splashed across countless tabloid magazines each week and instead, her own experience as a mother of four (she was only just pregnant with twins Knox and Vivienne during filming ), seems to lend itself to a performance so real you can actually momentarily forget her celebrity status all together.
Malkovich is incredible as Rev Gustav Briegleb, managing to be completely believeable as the outspoken and outlandish community activist who is determined to expose all the dirty truths of the LAPD during this turbulant period in time. The complete opposite of the type of character you expect to see Malkovich play, Eastwood cast him against his type on purpose he felt it would add depth, and, being right on the mark, this very well could see him scooping up his own Oscar nod because of it.
Lesser known actors Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the conniving Irish-American police captain JJ Jones, and Michael Kelly, who plays Detective Lester Ybarra, the man who finally makes the drastic move that discloses the cover up, are both outstanding in their roles and should be commended for their part in making this outstanding picture what it is.
Eastwood will undoubtedly get some Oscar appreciation for the film and rightfully so. And, going on the basis that no one else manages to make a picture so utterly heartwrenching and soul-moving in the next month, there is a very good chance that Changeling could be Eastwood’s newest Million Dollar Baby.