Based on true events that took place in California in the 1920s, the movie delves into what happens when a police department goes corrupt and how it affects the regular people in the town. Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins, mother of nine-year old Walter. Jolie was perfect as this working, single mother who obviously loved her child and did everythign she could to take care of him. Their bond is demonstrated through her actions as well as through her honesty in answering his questions about what happened to his father. Collins works as a supervisor at a telephone switch, and comes home from work one day to find that her son is missing.
What could be worse for the parent of a missing child than wondering what's happened to their child? If they find the child dead, it's a nightmare but there is closure. If the find the child alive and well, it's a dream come true. What happened to Christine Collins is decidedly a nightmare, not only lacking closure, but presenting more questions than it seems possible to answers.
Months later, she's notified that her son has been found, but when she goes to the train station to meet him, the boy they present her with is NOT her son. Watching Jolie bullied into taking the boy home and struggling with her disappointment and confusion is heartwrenching. She plays the scenes of frightened desperation with such heart and pain that it's impossible not to feel for her character.
As time goes on, the nightmare keeps getting worse, and Collins is forced by a corrupt police captain into a mental institution where no one believes a word she says. Despite everything, Collins stuck to her guns, and with the help of a local Reverend who takes her side and publicizes her situation, manages to expose the police department's horrifying activites.
The movie isn't incredibly fast paced, and that's one thing I loved about it. I liked watching a period movie from a more recent time, but not involving war or politics or tons of action. I liked watching this normal, everyday woman faced with a horrifying situation, watching her struggle and eventually help change the world she lived in for the better. For the most part, it was pleasant to watch, and easy to follow. It was just a great story turned into a great movie.
Jason Butler Harner, who I recognized from various appearances on TV shows like Law & Order and The Closer, was incredible as Gordon Northcott, a serial murderer whose storyline parallels and intertwines with Collins' story. Northcott lived in the nearby town of Wineville (renamed afterwards to Mira Loma, CA) and was convicted of murdering several young boys. As one reviewer put it, the scene in which Northcott is eventually executed by hanging is so real that it's almost unbearable to watch.
Changeling is proof that Clint Eastwood is progressing quite nicely as a director, and a refreshing piece of cinema.