Posted on February 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Radiantly beatific, Angelina Jolie glows with mother love in bright red lipstick and a series of divine cloche hats as Christine Collins, a devoted single mother, in this fact-based drama directed by Clint Eastwood. In 1928 Los Angeles, while she was at work, her son Walter just disappeared. Months later, the police told her they had found him, but the boy they gave her was not her son. She was pressured by corrupt cops to accept the new boy as hers. When she persisted in pointing out that not only was this boy physically different from Walter but that his dentist and teacher were on her side, she was committed to a mental institution and told she could not leave until she dropped all efforts to prove that her son had not been returned.

Eastwood’s meticulous direction and the sheer outrageousness of the story make for absorbing drama, though the very strangeness of the underlying facts makes the material seem overpacked (the running time is almost two and a half hours) and its discursive unfolding diminishes the dramatic effect.

It is impossible not to bring Jolie’s public role as a devoted mother of six to her performance here. Once Hollywood’s most notorious wild child, Jolie has transformed her public persona into a sort of earth Mother Courage on behalf of her own multi-cultural brood and on behalf of all the world’s poor and neglected children with her work for the United Nations. All of that blends in to the ferocity she brings to this role, diminishing the power of the story. The stand-out performances here are Ryan as the indomitable inmate and Jason Butler Harner as the man who probably knows what happened to Walter.

An additional distraction is the effort to put three separate stories into one long drama. The first act is the boy’s disappearance and the horrifyingly absurd attempt to persuade Collins that another child is her son. The second is a “Snake Pit”/”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” diversion after she is thrown into the state mental hospital, where she is subjected to abuse but meets another inmate (the always-outstanding Amy Ryan) whose honesty and courage helps sustain her hope. And then there is a third act, where Collins all but disappears as the crime drama plays out and we find out what happened to the boy and what happened to those responsible.

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Based on a true story Courtroom Drama

14 Replies to “Changeling”

  1. I would not waste my money to see a movie with Angelina Jolie, she is a mediocre actress with some very weird ideas. She is a homewrecker who does not speak to her father because he left her mother??? Double standard. I love Clint Eastwood but this movie I will pass on. Brad Pitt (the puppet) is another person whose movies I do without. I cannot for the life of me understand why they get all this publicity because they have 6 kids, get over it, there are many families with more than 6 kids who actually have to take care of them and wonder where their next meal is coming from and how to live crammed in a small house they can’t afford. They also cannot afford the plastic surgery that Jolie has had, anyone can be beautiful if they have the money. I am sick, sick, sick or seeing their phony faces plastered everywhere, let’s have some real people make the headlines.

  2. Come on, Movie Buff…tell us how you really feel! It’s doubtful Jolie has had plastic surgery…surgery normally makes one look artificial or odd. She looks neither. Whether you like her politics or not, I believe she’s a good actress, and would agree with Movie Mom that her real-life mother image might get in the way of this role. But unlike you, I’ll see the film myself to confirm my feelings.

  3. What distracted me, besides the film’s tension-free courtroom scenes, was just how horribly thin Jolie is here.
    Normally, it’s mean spirited to critique an actor’s looks … but her emaciated form took me out of the film time and time again. It’s a shame no one in her life could pull her aside during the shoot and tell her how unhealthy she looks. I also doubt a woman of that era would choose to look like the waif-thin models you’d find in a 2008 magazine.

  4. I agree with Movie Buff. I have a difficult time watching anything and reading anything by Angeline Jolie or what’s his name ( the Brad babysitter). I am a christian who is swayed by what to watch in consideration to the attitude and persona of the actor/actress. And yes, she does look horribly thin with too many body pictures and too showy with her Look at how world caring I am family. I wonder how many nannies take care of these children? God forgive me if I’m out of line but sometimes I get the sense that ever since the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith was filmed, I’ll have nothing to do with either of them. God’s still firm on Brad being betrothed to Jennifer and my bible is not wrong so there is some adultery here whether married on earth or not to Jolie.

  5. Pauline and Movie Buff, it is always a shame when actors’ real-life activities make it impossible for you to appreciate their performances. While I do not advocate dismissing all work by artists whose life choices disappoint or offend us, I recognize that it can be a distraction and that in some cases audiences may decide that they do not want to support people of whom they do not approve.
    In my opinion, Angelina Jolie is a fine actress and she is also someone who has turned away from a life of foolish and destructive choices to become a devoted mother and a respected advocate for the world’s children. But I understand and respect your comments and appreciate your taking the time to write.
    Christian, I agree with you that Jolie’s underweight appearance was a distraction in this film — I originally wrote about it in my review but then took it out. I may put it back!

  6. Saw this on Monday night. Ms. Jolie is a very good actress, but the fact that Mr. Eastwood loved, loved, loved her face was a distraction. He has a tendency to over do close-ups–especially of his female leads. Just my opinion. Otherwise, I think this film is well done and he certainly captures the era’s look and feel extremely well. I actually liked the film better than “Million Dollar Baby”, which I still believe was overrated and not his best. This story brought me to tears several times. As a Mom of 4 boys and Nonna to 9 grandchildren, it was so difficult to watch. Ms. Collins was undoubtedly treated criminally and with inhuman cruelty both by the police and the mental “health” workers. I looked up the case on the Internet when I got home and it made me feel even sadder! And to learn she died without ever finding her boy was devastating. It certainly is a story that needed to be told so that we as citizens make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Looking forward to Mr. Eastwood’s newest.

  7. My family and I just saw the movie and agree that Angelina Jolie is Oscar material for best actress on this one. As always, Clint Eastwood
    hit a home run on directing this movie.

  8. For ruining the plot for me. So, now I don’t have to see the movie. I already know (thanks to you) that she dies without finding her son. This is just great!!!

  9. You’re jumping to conclusions, Disappointed. I am careful about spoilers (except when I have to reveal information as a part of my parental warnings), so read it again to see what I did and did not say.

  10. I saw this movie over the weekend… was pretty unsettling to me with the death of the boys and what the mother went thru…was hoping for a different outcome, but that’s real life drama…I’m not a big Jolie fan but she was good in this and as always Clint Eastwood is still on top of the game.

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