Saturday, November 08, 2008


Changeling takes us back in time to a Los Angeles of the 1920’s. L.A. has street cars running on rails throughout the city, private cars parked in front of many, but not all, residences. The town looks almost like modern day. Except that in this town, the police have been allowed to take over. They shoot when they want, they search and seize without warrants. If someone resists, or vocally protests too much, they put the men in jail, and do something worse to the women.

This environment is a major character in Changeling. We meet Christine, played by Angelina Jolie, who comes home from work one day to find her son missing. Months later, they find her son. But when she is finally able to meet up with him at the train, she doesn’t recognize him. This is not her son.

The rest is her battle with the police and every authority figure in Los Angeles to convince them of this fact. The local priest (played by John Malkovich), who is fighting the police chief on his daily radio broadcast, joins her in the fight.

Clint Eastwood has, in what he says is one of his final directing jobs, taken a story by Joe Straczynski, and told it simply but unsparingly, and makes it an emotional one for us. It’s one of the finest pieces of story-telling in movies I’ve ever witnessed. This movie doesn’t have the energy of Million Dollar Baby, but it has the same kind of emotional impact. And because of this, it’s not for the faint-of-heart.

Angelina Jolie gives the performance of her still-short life. She’s on the edge here, because we identify with her, but we don’t want to see a merely hysterical woman parade around. But how would you act if your baby were still missing? If the police had given up because they had already solved the case?

And it’s great to see Jeffrey Donovan as the police detective who helps her “solve” her missing person problem. Donovan is so charming in the new T.V. show, “Burn Notice.” He’s less than charming here but always watchable.

It’s a true story, well-researched by Straczynski. There’s no surprise ending as in Million Dollar Baby, but there are several endings. Just when I thought the story had to be over, there was more. And the sum of these parts makes for an extraordinary movie.

Thumb's up.

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