Although not quite perfect, Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling” is among the best true crime stories I have seen put to film – and considering the film clocks in at 2:20, that’s no small feat.
Written by JMS, “Changeling” stars Angelina Jolie who is very good as Christine Collins, a single mother circa 1928 Los Angeles whose young son, Walter, suddenly goes missing. Naturally, Mrs. Collins’ first impulse is to call the police, who inform her they do not respond to missing persons cases until 24 hours have elapsed.
However, when Walter still hasn’t shown up the next day, the LAPD takes Mrs. Collins’ statement in a way that is less than respectful. Three months later, the cops then contact Mrs. Collins at her place of business, and inform her that her son has been recovered in Illinois, and is returning home by train. But when Mrs. Collins goes to meet who she expects is Walter, another boy has been put in his place.
Initially, Mrs. Collins claims the boy is not her son, but faced with reams of bad press over police corruption in LA—spearheaded by a media-savvy local minister played by John Malkovich—the cops insist no mistake has been made, and that Mrs. Collins is obviously suffering from the shock of losing her son for three months.
The rest of “Changeling” plays off of this set-up, and develops from an odd mystery to a very gritty crime tale that has somewhat of an uplifting conclusion, but only somewhat.
In all, I enjoyed the film much better than I expected I would. It is also perhaps the best picture that Clint Eastwood has ever directed.