Clint Eastwood is proving himself to be one of the finest directors in the 21st century. “Changeling” is Eastwood’s 22nd film as a director and serves as another fine example of his craftsmanship.
It has all the makings of a Best Picture nominee: terrific performances from its cast, a steady hand in the director’s chair and a script that actually has some meat in it.
The word “changeling” means “in folklore, a child who is secretly substituted for another one by fairies.” This is only one aspect of the story in “Changeling,” which is based on true events that took place in Los Angeles in 1928.
Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins, a single mother whose son, Walter, mysteriously disappeared from home and was never found. If the LAPD had its way, Walter Collins’ case would have been closed within six months of his disappearance.
In desperate need of some good PR, the Los Angeles Police Department coerces Christine into accepting a boy found in the Midwest as her son, but she refuses. While a woman standing up for what she believes in is common today, in 1928 Los Angeles a woman did not refuse the LAPD and live to talk about it.
The conflict between Christine and the LAPD provides the real thrust of the storyline and further enriches the plot. Her battle against the corruption and unethical behavior that was prevalent at that time is compelling and Jolie strikes a good balance between being a heartbroken mother and a political activist. Eastwood wisely chose not to portray Christine Collins as a crusader, but rather as a human being who wants to do the right thing.
Eastwood has assembled a strong cast to support Jolie including John Malkovich, Amy Ryan, and Jeffrey Donovan. Even the young actors in this movie give strong performances, which is just a further testament to Eastwood’s ability to coach his actors.
The “Changeling” demonstrates how compelling a movie can be when the director allows the story to be king. Eastwood gets out of the way as a director and that is exactly what makes “Changeling” so powerful. The story is allowed to develop in a natural pace and there isn’t a sense that the director is trying to lead the audience down a certain path in order to confuse the viewer or keep them guessing.
The movie is being marketed as a provocative thriller, but it’s really more historical drama, but it’s easy to see how marketing a “provocative thriller” starring Angelina Jolie would be much easier to sell.
Fortunately with “Changeling” this is one of those times when the audience will be getting more than they expected, not less.