Rating: 2 stars
Outrage is a completely legitimate feeling for a film to evoke. Indeed, collective self-righteousness and indignation can be very cathartic for an audience. But Changeling spoon-feeds us our outrage. It’s outrage for idiots.
Angelina Jolie—sporting flapper attire and alarmingly red lipstick—plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1920s Los Angeles. One night, she comes home late from work—she manages telephone operators (in a nifty period detail, she glides from station to station on roller skates)—and is horrified to discover that her 10 year old, Walter, is nowhere to be found. She calls the cops, but they patronizingly tell her that she should sit tight—boys will be boys; he’ll be back before night’s end. He never returns.
It so happens that just as the LAPD are launching their investigation into Walter’s whereabouts, they’re under fire by a local pastor and radio personality (John Malkovich), who aims to publicly expose the department’s greed and corruption. The LAPD needs a feel-good story—so they invent one. They reunite Christine with her son, but there’s one problem—it’s not really Walter. She protests immediately, but is accused of being irrational, an hysteric. Eventually, her protests becomes so inconvenient to the LAPD, they institutionalize her.
The plight of Christine Collins is based on a true story. And the woman was truly a martyr of sorts—thanks to her dogged pursuit of the truth, she was able to take down the LAPD and even bring justice to women who were wrongly institutionalized. But director Clint Eastwood is far too heavy handed in his treatment of this material. The villains—the police chief and captain; the doctor at the mental institution; another doctor who tells Christine that a boy can shrink 3 inches if he’s under enough stress—are almost caricatures of evil. Plus, it’s all so painfully literal minded. (How much more interesting would it have been if we weren’t sure if this lad were really Walter?) What’s more, when we find out what did happen to Walter, the film takes an uncomfortable turn for the macabre.
As for Angelina Jolie? She’s a very talented actress, but her newfound propensity to play aggrieved women—first Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, now this—should be discouraged. Jolie’s greatness does not lie in her ability to mope majestically.
For the rest of this review, check out the December issue of Baltimore.