Clint Eastwood’s latest is a child abduction mystery that is a horse of many colors, and all are done very well, with a great turn by the lead Angelina Jolie, but something keeps the film back from being truly as great and powerful as some of his recent work.
In 1928 Christine Collins is a floor manager at the Pacific Bell switch board, rolling around on her skates taking care of unruly customers and making sure the lines stay up and open. She lives as a single mother with her son and they have an amazing relationship, taking Walter to school every morning on her way to work. One Saturday she is called into work to fill in for a missing worker, and she leaves Walter at home with a word to the neighbor to check on him in a coupe hours. When she gets home, Walter is gone, and a quick search of the surrounding area yields no results, which leads her to calling in a missing person report. After a few months pass, Christine receives word that her son is found and alive, and the police escort her to the train station to meet him upon his return. But when Christine sees him, she proclaims, “that’s not my son,” and it takes some quick words from, Capt. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) who is in charge of juvenile cases in the LAPD, to convince her to take him home for a trial run, since the boy might have changed in appearance due to her and his stress over the time he was gone; though Jones’ words don’t stick for long.
Also getting involved in the investigation is a Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) who spends much of his time calling out Chief James E. Davis (Colm Feore) for his and his police departments corruptive acts all around the city, [Briegleb] attempting to bring public justice and reform to the LAPD. Also falling into play is a child deportation case that leads to much graver implications to everything in play.
Eastwood has crafted a very effective mystery here that moves from one storyline to another without getting jumbled up or dragging. He makes all threads compelling, slowly bringing them together, while simultaneously creating a beautiful recreation of the era to the screen along with some haunting visuals added in as well. Eastwood also does a fine job at lightening up the proceedings from time to time, which is necessary with this subject matter that can get grim and depressing, and he shows great range in taking us from a serious moment to making us smile, sometimes even in the midst of crisis. The movie is about two and a half hours long, but it never bores and constantly engages and that is thanks to the great cast Eastwood has going for him.
Angelina Jolie is great in this film. She is distraught over her loss, but holds her head up with strength and manages to work through her grief while never giving up hope. She also just commands a few scenes that really pin you to your seat at how powerful she can be; especially breaking out of her quiet shell that Christine is day to day. She also does some great work with the kids she works with, especially creating such a strong bond with Walter (Gattlin Griffith) in such a short amount of screen time the two have together. John Malkovich brings humor and courage to his role, and makes the most of his short amount of screen time. A straight forward guardian angel roll over Christine allows the viewer to easily get behind him and hoping he is able to help her along. Jason Butler Harner and Eddie Alderson also deserve praise for their work, as they both step up in creepy and unsettling roles later on in the film. Geoff Pierson also chews up and steals every scene he is in and has one of the most uplifting lines and moments in the film as a prosecuting attorney. Lastly, Amy Ryan also makes the most of her scenes, which I again, can’t really elaborate on without being a spoiler.
In the end, Changeling is a very effective period drama missing that magic bit that puts it with the elite. Full of suspense and drama, with just enough laughs when needed, it is expertly crafted by Eastwood and acted by Jolie, I just wish something would have clicked and made this amazing in my mind because it is a movie that you can complain very little about.