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Changeling (2008)


Angelina Jolie is the perfect example of an actress whose celebrity outshines her work and talent. With the constant bombardment of media attention surrounding “Brangelina” for the last ten years (cheating scandals, break-up rumors, testaments to their “weird” lifestyle, number of children, etc.) it is easy to forget that Jolie is a great actress. Sure, she has made some poor choices in the past (ahem, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), but her talent seems to shine brightest when she is passionate about a project. The two major breakout roles which garnered critical acclaim and awards nominations, Gia (1998) and Girl Interrupted (1999), both have similar character types which she became known for — wild, damaged women. Christine Collins is the complete opposite, which is one of the reasons Changeling is so good. In this role, Jolie portrays a quiet, average woman who must summon strength and find her voice in the face of institutional male oppression.

Some of the facts have been over-dramatized and certain angles downplayed, and the story seems too crazy to be true, but it is, and perfect for Hollywood. Single working mom, Christine Collins’ (Jolie) 9-year-old son Walter goes missing in March of 1928. Five months later the LAPD shows up at her door with a boy who they claim is Walter; Christine insists that it is not. Caving under pressure and out of compassion for the child, she takes him home for a few weeks only to return to the police telling them they have made a mistake. The LAPD was under public scrutiny at the time for widespread corruption, and Collins’ story was big in the press leading the cops to believe this would be the perfect opportunity to create a positive image. Collins chooses to fight and luckily there are others around to help her, like Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich). Although she would have been forgotten if it wasn’t for the Rev., he is also using Christine to further his crusade against the LAPD. Eventually, the cops send her to an insane asylum to get her out of the way, claiming she was crazy for not recognizing her son.

The film is expertly directed by Clint Eastwood, who sits back and allows the characters and the story to compel the audience rather than flashy visuals. The movie is filled with muted colors (except for Christine’s red lipstick) and slow panning shots, evoking realness. With bad cops, missing children, and serial killers, Changeling could have played out like a thriller, but instead the filmmakers opt to focus on Christine and give her the voice that the LAPD tried to silence. The quiet images of a grieving mother are the most powerful in the film. As the story becomes more complex Eastwood consistently cuts to sequences of Christine’s personal battle to emphasize the importance of the public battle that ensues.

The movie is shot in a classical Hollywood style, and Eastwood and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski clearly illustrate Christine as the “good” and the LAPD as the “bad.” However, one of the refreshing things about the film is that it never really tries to tell its audience how to feel. It would have been easy to slip into maternal melodrama, but it seems like they made the effort to stay as realistic as possible (within the confines of a typical good vs evil story). Even the simple “This story is true” statement in the opening credits, doesn’t begin to cover the unbelievable facts of the case. These elements and Jolie’s ability to add depth and compassion to a portrayal which could have easily been a one-dimensional character are what makes Changeling worth a watch.


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