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Changeling (2008)

A movie directed by Clint Eastwood

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Some flaws, but an ABSOLUTELY compelling true story.

  • Nov 3, 2008
  • by
The true story of Christine Collins, as presented in Clint Eastwood's CHANGELING, is a supremely compelling slice of American history. I was surprised that I had never really heard of the case...but from what I've read about it since seeing the movie, it sounds like the whole thing was going to slip into a national distant memory. It's very exciting that this case has now been captured for posterity. Frankly, the story feels a little bit like what an adaptation of the non-fiction book DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY might feel like. An unusual and nearly forgotten crossroads of two fascinating bits of Americana.

The year is 1928, and Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a single-mother raising her 9 year old son in Los Angeles. She works as a floor manager in a telephone operator center. She's good at her job, respected by the woman and men around her...but it's clear her life revolves around giving her young son a solid life. They live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. They use very convenient public transportation to go to work and school. They get along well, and the boy seems to be studious and polite. It's a rosy picture...but there's no reason not to believe it. One day, Collins must go to work on a weekend unexpectedly, and she leaves her son Walter at home alone. (This was not nearly as "irresponsible" then as it would be today.) She comes home that evening, and her son is gone, without a trace.

The police are not very helpful, but amazingly, after a few months, she gets word that her son has been found in DeKalb, Illinois and is on his way back. The police, anxious for a bit of good publicity, arrange for the press to be at the station in droves when mother & son are reunited. But when the happy moment comes, Christine insists that the boy greeting her is NOT her son.

Her campaign to compel the police to continue looking for her son is what drives much of this film. Apparently, at this time in Los Angeles, the police were as corrupt as any group of mobsters and twice as murderous. If a man needed to be silenced, he'd be killed. If a woman needed to learn to shut up, she was committed to an insane asylum. Christine's saga is sure to stir any viewers outrage and disbelief.

In the background of this sensational case, we follow the journey of one plodding but honest enough detective, who eventually uncovers the fate of young Walter and a number of other missing boys. It is this investigation and the subsequent events of it that elevate this from an interesting but somewhat familiar film to a story that is almost too good to be believed.

When Christine's plight collides with this detective's discoveries and then they collide again with a corrupt police force...this is when you shake your head and wonder how it is you've not heard this story before. If someone were to write a novel like this...we'd smile at how much they were stretching credulity.

So, just to experience the story alone makes CHANGELING a must-see. Simple as that.

Too bad the movie itself isn't a little better. It is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and while I do not mind long movies at all, I felt that Eastwood's always stately pace was just a mite too glacial. I would have liked to lose 10 minutes. Nothing major...just a little tightening. Many critics of the film complain that it has too many endings. It IS true that the film follows virtually every bit of the case to their conclusions...and this leads to a film without a true climax. But frankly, the story is inherently compelling enough that the lack of that one "wow" moment was okay. I was glad he took the time to show us what happened years later...rather than simply show a title card with a quick sentence telling us how it all turned out. (There is some of that...but only after all the meat of the story has played out.)

In addition, I found the acting spotty at best. Jeffrey Donovan plays the detective who most vehemently stands in Christine's way. His character is one-dimensionally constructed, and Donovan struggles to add layers to it. John Malkovich is given the character of an activist minister who uses Christine to wage his battle against the police...and while it's a less manic performance from Malkovich than we usually also feels a bit devoid of energy and life. He feels like a dramatic device...even though he may have really existed. On the other hand, Michael Kelly as Detective Ybarra, who cracks the case gives a suitably understated and yet charismatic performance. And I have a soft spot for Colm Feore, who plays the Chief of Police, ever since his great work in the Stephen King TV movie "Storm of the Century."

And what of Jolie? There's no doubt she throws her all into the part. She is a compelling presence, and it's the kind of performance that frequently inspires Oscar nominations. But I actually found her a bit tiring to watch at times. She so often resorts to thumping her chest and proclaiming in a despair-wracked, gravelly voice, "I want MY son!! I want my SON!! I WANT my son!!!" The role is quietly flashy (good) but also not very nuanced (not so good). I believe ultimately it is the script that has betrayed her...but sometimes Jolie also just seems to self-aware of what a striking figure she is in her period costumes and her sensual lips.

The film is great to look at. The recreation of suburban LA, with red trolley cars running right down quiet neighborhood streets is a treat. The costumes are great and the cinematography is suitably unobtrusive. Almost every frame makes you feel immersed in a particular time and place.

Yet it is really only the amazing facts of the story itself that make this film a must-see. Were the story inherently less compelling, I'd probably only be able to give the film a very marginal thumbs up, due to flaws in pacing and acting and scripting. As it stands, however, I need to recommend this film highly by virtue of its amazing true tale.

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More Changeling reviews
review by . April 13, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
You really have to go a ways to lead with Angelina Jolie and be directed by icon Clint Eastwood, and yet create this lame of a film.  Considering the incredibly disturbing nature of the subjects covered, I was beyond let down by the end when I was not only NOT moved to tears, but totally apathetic.  I have a young daughter, and hesitated to watch this film for fear of becoming even more paranoid about her ever coming in harms way.  Yeah, well... that would require the film touching …
review by . August 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
      CHANGELING      I went into this film for only one reason and it had nothing to do with Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, or Angelina Jolie. I watched this for Jeffrey Donovan since I am a huge fan of his especially his show with Bruce Campbell "Burn Notice", possibly the best show on today. So I was excited to learn that he was in this and had a major role in it as well. Still with that a side every one involved with this film did an excellent job …
Quick Tip by . August 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
This was a wonderful film that I think was snubbed by the Academy but what ever, this film is great with out them. I recommend this flick to any and every one that enjoys a good movie. Normally I would say something like this may not be for every body but this time I will say, every body go get this. Everyone in this film and every one that worked on it should be proud, a marvelous piece of film making based on real events.
Quick Tip by . July 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
It was really interesting to see Angelina Jolie in such a fragile role and she did it very well. The way she toughens throughout the story also feels genuine. The wider subject treated in the film was also a piece of history I was intrigued to learn about since I have lived and worked previously in LA's Inland Empire.
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Angelina Jolie at her best. The story is moving and will make you just mad. I loved it
review by . July 04, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Outstanding performance by Angela Jolie; great supporting cast.     Cons: A little slow at times.     The Bottom Line: A little plodding at times Changeling is a great film and I have little problem recommending it.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. We Americans like to think that our justice system is the best in the world. That our rights, enshrined as they are in the under the Bill of …
review by . September 14, 2009
Changeling is the story, based upon actual events, of Christine Collins' quest to find her young son Walter, missing without a trace. It is also the story of appalling corruption in the government and police department of 1920's-'30's Los Angeles, which apparently has been a significant problem of long-standing. A third subplot involves a serial child killer who may or may not have had contact with Walter, and a forth presents a horrific view of the psychiatric ward in a local hospital.     Ange …
review by . March 04, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
The police finding the wrong boy and insists that it is someone's son…mistakes like this don't happen, do they? Well, apparently they did in Los Angeles back in 1928 and this fact is actually very disquieting. "Changeling" is a film based on the experiences of a woman named Christine Collins and on the murders of a small town outside L.A. called "Wineville". Co-produced by Clint Eastwood and written by one of my favorite writers, J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Midnight Nation, Thor), the film …
review by . March 16, 2009
Christine Collins: The boy they brought back is not my son.       Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):     1. A single mother's only son is missing   2. It takes five months for the Police to reunite the mother and the boy who said "I am the one"   3. But she knew that the kid was not her son   4. The Police Captain insisted: "Don't go Changeling. She'll love you just the way you are"   5. But she didn't   6. …
review by . March 09, 2009
When you watch a historical based true story like the Changeling it's hard to know for sure if the actors are channeling the spirits of those they are portraying. (or if their performace is bad) That being said both Angelina Jolie (Oscar nomination) and Jeffery Donovan do solid jobs at best as they help recreate a story about a real killer in the late 1920s. Clint Eastwood as director and producer kept this film on track as do strong acting performances from John Malkovich and Michael Kelly.  …
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I've got my own site,, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Changeling is a 2008 American drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by J. Michael Straczynski. Set in 1928 Los Angeles, the film is based on the true story of a woman who is reunited with her kidnapped son—only to realize he is an impostor. After confronting the city authorities, she is vilified as an unfit mother and branded delusional. The incident was related to the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, a kidnapping and murder case uncovered in 1928. Changeling explores themes such as feminine disempowerment and corruption in political hierarchies. It was made by Imagine Entertainment and Malpaso Productions for Universal Pictures.

Clint Eastwood’s mastery as a director, established over the past decade and a half withUnforgiven,Million Dollar Baby,Letters from Iwo Jima, and others, continues withChangeling, a 2008 offering based on a shocking but all-too-true story about child abduction and police corruption in 1920s Los Angeles. Single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie, excellent in a role with somewhat limited parameters) finds her 9-year-old son, Walter, missing when she returns home from work one day. She files a report with the Los Angeles Police Department, an outfit that was wildly unpopular at the time (in his regular radio broadcast, a crusading pastor played by John Malkovich decries the force as "violent and corrupt," adding that "our protectors are our brutalizers"). When a child roughly matching Walter’s ...
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Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Mystery
Release Date: October 31, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
DVD Release Date: February 17, 2009
Runtime: 141 min
Studio: Universal Studios
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