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Synopsis

This film is a throwback to the 1920s, complete with streetcars, crooked cops, and roller-skating telephone operators.  A time unlike any other, to be honest, and with Clint Eastwood behind the camera, he reminds us of that again and again.  Christine Collins (played by Angelina Jolie) is a single working mom, a supervisor in fact whose manager tells her that they were dubious at first at hiring a woman in a leadership position.  She’s hard working and like many mothers today, finds it difficult to balance work with family life.

What starts as a happy mother and son film changeling2quickly turns into the nightmare that every parent fears.  When Christine can’t find her son, she does what any mother would do.  She does everything she can do to hunt him down from scouring the streets until way after dark to phoning the police.  As the true plot of the story unfolds the viewer becomes more wrapped up in this emotional tug-of-war between a desperate mother and a police department trying a “quick fix” for a shattered reputation.

Plot

***WARNING – SPOILERS TO THE ENDING***SKIP***

One review I read on Netflix said that they felt that this movie was trying to be too many things.  From L.A. Confidential (crooked cops), to Girl, Interrupted (Jolie appears again in a psychiatric ward) and that the film itself didn’t have any real role to itself.  I don’t think this is an entirely fair comparison.  First, I don’t like going into a film trying to see how many other films I can find in it.  Writers get inspiration from all sorts of good films/TV series, so you’re bound to see something that looks familiar.  As South Park reiterated, “Simpsons did it.”  Complete uniqueness is a rare commodity to come by in media today, so its best not to expect it.  Secondly, since the storyline is based on the true story of Christine Collins where she did go to a psychiatric ward, she did have to stand trial, and yes, there was a serial killer who more than likely was responsible for her son’s death – it simply feels wrong to claim it as old hat.  This is a dramatized depiction of someone’s life after all, with all the confusion and heartache along with it.  Sure, its been cleaned up to match your modern perspective (ie. Angelina Jolie was unsurprisingly more attractive than Collins was), but its entertainment.  The movie stands quite well on its own without dragging in other films to weigh it down.

A surprise that I had part-way through the film was that a serial killer was involved.  I find movies about them fascinating, and this particular killer was no different though a bit more horrendous.  Hacking up children on his farm in the middle of nowhere, he was definitely not a likable character, and his pitiful, cowardly mannerisms only made him more obnoxious.  You can find more details about him on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which caused the city of Wineville to change its name to Mira Loma after all the bad publicity. 

When Collins is given a boy and told that it is her son, that she wouldn’t be able to recognize him because of the stress they’ve both been through, its simply unbelievable.  His height is different, he’s been circumcised, and the Police Department even sends a child behavior specialist to explain to her that it is indeed her son, and parading her around as though she were a bad mother for not recognizing him.  Still attempting to gather evidence to find her real boy, Collins gets verbal acknowledgements from the boy’s regular dentist and schoolteacher that it is not the same child.

Things go downhill from here, but I don’t want to give away too much.  Just know that it’s quite an emotional roller coaster.

Performances

The most memorable performance of the film is definitely Jolie.  She embodies Collin’s meek nature yet also her perseverance and determination.  You follow her emotional changeling1upheavals throughout the film, and you’ll be crying right alongside Jolie at every hiccup.  The fact that such a well known actress could fall into this role, and let you forget that Jolie is acting the part is such a treat.  I didn’t find myself being reminded through the whole film that Jolie was part of it.  To me, that’s one of the major signs of a good actor/actress.  If you’re a Jolie fan, this is certainly not a film to miss.

John Malcovich, another well known actor, played the Reverend Gustav Briegleb who assists Collins at various times within the film.  He’s very quiet and soft spoken, but shares Collins’ determination.  He’s waging a vocal war against the corruptness of the police force and attempts to recruit Collins in his fight.  Though Briegleb is a rather quiet man, and he doesn’t make too many appearances in the film, the strength he embodies the character is always felt.  I wish he’d been used more in the film, but I understand why he was given limited appearances.  There was enough craziness going on already in the film.

Another excellent piece of acting that must be given credit is Jason Butler Harner’s character, the renowned serial killer Gordon Northcott.  The nervous little mannerisms, the bragging swagger as he’s photographed by the media, and even his appearance is excellent.  I admit when I saw a picture of the real Northcott from the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders beside Harner’s from the film I was amazed.  As much as you hate the character in the film, you have to give credit to this amazing bit of acting (especially his final scene).

Gordon Northcottchangeling4 

Costumes & Special Effects

While there weren’t any explosions or pyrotechnics in this film, there certainly were some incredible special effects.  Seeing the repaired trolley going down the street, fit with trolley tracks and set back in the 1920s, this really was helpful in setting the time frame and adding to the beautiful atmosphere of the film.  In the behind-the-scenes special, they show how they had to find a quiet neighborhood to convert into a 1920s subdivision.  They had to hide or remove fences, satellite dishes, mailboxes.  All to get the distinct look and feel of the time.

The costumes were another beauty.  The police wore all the layers of the time including suspenders, vest coat, tie clip, the works.  And the dresses the women wore changed as you moved from the 1920s to the 1930s.  Collins is even shown roller-skating around the workplace in heels, which was typical of the time.  All of this combined made this film very visually appealing.

Overall Impression

Changeling was nominated for three Oscars: Art Direction, Cinematography, and Actress in a Leading Role.  It was beat out by Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, and Kate Winslet in The Reader.  Since I haven’t seen any of these films, I can’t say whether or not this was deserving.  This is definitely a lasting film though, and you’ll be thinking of many of the scenes long after you’ve watched it.  I’d give it a solid A without a question.  Why not an A+ you might ask?  Well, I do think that Malkovich could have been used more, and seeing more of Jolie’s child before he disappears would have also been helpful.  As it was you didn’t get much of a feel for his personality.  Nitpicking, I know, but those are the only items that really prevented it from being a perfect film to me.

Enjoy this one, but just know that it’s not very uplifting.  Make sure you watch it with a box of Kleenex handy.

Resources

IMDB: Changeling (2008)

Wikipedia: Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

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