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Changeling (2008)

A movie directed by Clint Eastwood

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4 ½ Stars: Emotionally Mesmerizing Portrayal of the Power of a Mother's Love

  • Mar 4, 2009

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 is a powerful piece of filmmaking. I've always had a fondness for Eastwood films and this film further cements the reasons why.

Los Angeles, 1928. When single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) comes home from work, she finds that her son, Walter (Gatlin Griffith) has vanished without a trace. Five months later, the LAPD reunite mother and son; but the problem is, the boy is not her son. Her pleas are ignored by Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan, Burn Notice) and dismissed as a mother's unreasonable ravings. Driven by one woman's relentless quest for the truth, and aided by Rev. Briegleb (John Malcovich), the case exposes a world of corruption, captivates the public and changes Los Angeles forever.

The questions you have to ask yourself when you see the first half of the film is why is this boy claiming to be Walter Collins? There is no doubt that Christine is of sound mind and no one would know her son better than a mother would. While the film's main premise is simple, it manages to stick to its high points and manages to grip the audience through emotion. This film would be more appreciated by mothers, as it does tackle one woman's stand against the injustice being done her. The screenplay also manages to pull a few surprises, as the subplot with another boy who is an illegal immigrant from Canada gives doses of dark, very disturbingly real undertones. The movie is divided into two parts in three acts, the experiences of Christine Collins and the investigations of the Wineville murders. (this small town had changed its name after this incident) The second half nicely blends in with the film's overall premise which is blackmail, corruption, and the abuse by authority figures.

I've read somewhere that a melodrama is a film that revolves around its characters and I believe this strongly. "Changeling" is a melodrama, of this there is no doubt and much of the film's burden falls on Angelina Jolie. Jolie gives a very superb performance, she isn't loud or overly dramatic, she performs with such emotional finesse that when you look into her eyes, you can feel her pain. She rightfully deserved to be nominated for this film. John Malcovich exudes that familiar character and intensity--he seems obnoxious at times but his character overflows with righteousness. Malcovich was very strong and firm in his performance. Jeffrey Donovan plays the cop who is the root of Collins' troubles, Capt. Jones represents the arrogance and responsibilities of this corrupt police force. However, there is one conscientious cop in the persona of Detective Ybarra who is played by Michael Kelly. Despite his limited screen time, Kelly's character was in a good number of key moments in the film; for example, the interrogation scene between Kelly and amazingly good young actor Eddie Alderson is one of the film‘s key dramatic moments. As soon as you think the film is done with its surprises, Jason Butler Harner threatened to steal the show as one of the most disquietingly creepy performances since Hannibal Lecter.

Acting aside, which proved to be the film's greatest strength, the film's cinematography is also definitely noteworthy. One could easily ignore the scenery amid all the tearful moments and hysterics thrown into the screenplay, but the period costumes, set designs, and camerawork do deserve some credit. Eastwood keeps the camerawork tight and precise, but he manages to make use of the widescreen frame to fully utilize each scenario to convey the actual mood by using close ups, simple camera pans and perspective. Eastwood and Jolie work real well together, after all, Jolie is such a beauteous actress to shoot in close ups. Jolie looks great and she felt very comfortable with her role, unquestionably one of her best performances.

The only fault that I could find in the film is that the courtroom and trial sequences felt a little rushed, that maybe they could have been done a little better, but I also think that maybe it was a way to maintain focus on Christine Collins and its tone. The emotional high points do reach an all time high in a number of key scenes, (especially the scenes in the final moments of the 2nd act) and the resolutions and expositions in the last act may also prove a little too overlong to some.

Eastwood's films are never visually flashy, he keeps them straight-forward to emulate reality by avoiding elaborate camera trickery. In sticking to his old-school mechanics, Eastwood manages to maintain the focus on his characters. Clint Eastwood is among my favorite directors and working with Straczynski, they have presented a gut-wrenching, gripping, experience that can be compared to "L.A. Confidential". Eastwood fulfills his promise as a filmmaker with grace and finesse; too bad he is still a little underappreciated. This should change.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]

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October 21, 2010
LOVED this movie man, after reading your new one I had to look this one up. Jeffrey Donovan was great in this, great job.
October 21, 2010
Loved this movie too. It had strong women-empowerment themes also. Great movie! you like Mystic River?
March 26, 2009
Shit, I just watched this film and realized that it was written by the guy who wrote "Midnight Nation", and now having reread your review I see that you mention that and somehow I overlooked it. Duh, boy do I feel absent-minded.
April 12, 2009
so what did you think about the film? review it! join me here..
March 07, 2009
Actually, "Pan's Labyrinth" got snubbed. "The Lives of Others" won Best Foreign-Language Film.
March 07, 2009
now that realllyy sucks. I'm P.O.'d right now!
March 06, 2009
Well done. I still haven't seen either this or Gran Torino, but I will as soon as they get them at my DVD rental place. What did you think of Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima". I was stunned when neither of them won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2006. Don't get me wrong, I love Scorsese, but "The Departed" wasn't one of his best pictures and didn't compare to either "Pan's Labyrinth" or "Babel" or "Letters from Iwo Jima". I don't know who the hell is on the Academy Awards voting committee, but I sometimes wonder if they're drunk when they vote. "No Country for Old Men" as Best Picture of '07, yeah right.
March 07, 2009
Count, I actually liked "..Iwo Jima" a lot better than "Flags..". Awards don't mean a thing in my book. "The Departed" should never have won "best picture" since it was a remake, it failed in the originality criteria. "Pan's Labyrinth" did win best foreign picture, and I did like "Babel" a lot. It's all about politics in the Oscars, it is rare that they really pick a worthy winner. It's never about fair play, much with everything in life.
March 21, 2009
Sure is all about politics. I'll never get over the fact that John Sayles didn't win Best Foreign Language film for MEN WITH GUNS. He was at the ceremony too. I saw him in his tux sitting there hopefully.
March 21, 2009
Quite sad. I often wonder if the winners know if they're going to win or not. Penn always shows up on the nights that he has to receive an award.
March 05, 2009
Hi, Karen, Eastwood did definitely win best director for "Unforgiven", but a best actor award still eludes him. I just cannot see as to how a movie like "Benjamin Button" would get an award and this could only manage a nomination and not win. I like Eastwood's style, methodical but not flashy--never simple. It's sort of a visually stunning minimalism, hard to explain. I do hope he gets a best actor award soon...he deserves it. But I think "Gran Torino" may be his last starring role and he will focus on directing. I also liked "..Iwo Jima", not my fave but I still liked it.
March 05, 2009
His Oscar is undoubtedly on its way. He'll probably win for an inferior work as the Academy realizes they're running out of time to give him one. That seems to be the way it works. Then the award represents more of a lifetime achievement award even though its presented as something else. I was very impressed with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA myself. That just wasn't the kind of film I ever expected to get from Eastwood who I had always pictured as sort of a modern day John Wayne. I don't know why I persisted in that notion given the other films he had been making.
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 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.  …
review by . March 26, 2009
Little did I know, when I lived in Mira Loma, what heinous crimes had been committed just up the road from my little rural home.  It wasn't until much later that I learned of the Chicken Ranch murders....    What makes this movie spectacular is the attention to every minute detail in terms of set decoration.  I love films set in this period, but this one in particular gives loving homage to the time in which it is set.    Angelina Jolie is a talented …
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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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