With Clint Eastwood in the director’s seat again, this month sees us inthe cinemas witnessing another film with the discreet, pared backqualities that are his signature. Kylie Boltin reviews his latest effort, Changeling.
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5 Feb 2009 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 11:33 PM

Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich is a suspenseful, evocative and often gruelling film based on the true story of Christine Collins – an unwitting heroine in the struggle against police corruption and women’s rights in 1928 Los Angeles.

Changeling: n. thing or child believed to be substituted for another by stealth, esp. elf-child thus left by fairies.

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a model of integrity. Raising her nine-year old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) on her own, Collins is a floor manager of a telephone exchange in downtown Los Angeles. One Saturday, Collins is called in to work an extra shift. On return she discovers the unfathomable has happened – her son is missing.

Collins is immediately thrust into a world of despair, the excruciating pain made worse by a police error, the result of systemic corruption, that returns the wrong child into Collins’ care.

Jolie’s is a restrained performance as Collins. She is always a lady, measured in her choice of language, impeccable in her dress and carries out her responsibilities with distinction. Yet despite these qualities, when she tries to rectify the mistake and find her son, the treatment she receives at the hands of the investigating police, led by Captain J.J Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) is unthinkable – she is vilified and humiliated.

The story that unfolds is simply amazing — determination against all odds. It is Collins’ story, and the story of her son, but it couldn’t have survived the institutional obstacles were it not for the will and might of Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) who takes to broadcasting the case on his weekly KGF radio shows and church sermons. He shows a humility that is in scarce supply.

In terms of craft, attention to the historical details that surround the case and the period are pursued from all directions. The look of the film is achieved with special effects drawn onto live action shots — a technique that successfully transforms L.A. and Southern California into the period. From the trams that ride the tracks to Pasadena to the mountains that sit at the edge of Toronto, no detail is spared. This is enhanced with superb art direction by James Murakami and Gary Fettis together with the costume designs of Deborah Hopper who researched archival history of the case in her work. Similarly, J. Michael Straczynski’s script was researched over the course of a year and written largely from the historical records.

Executed without fault, Changeling is an intense, rewarding cinema experience.