In a nutshell:
A boy goes missing in LA in the 1920s. Some six months later, he is
returned to his mother, and the heartwarming mother and son reunion is touted
as a brilliant example of painstaking police work. Only one slight problem:
the boy who returns to her is not her son. He is an imposter. She keeps trying
to convince the police that they need to continue the search for her real son,
but the police are not willing to undermine the good PR they established with
their "successful" solution to the case, and are not willing to face the bad
publicity that would result from having that solution undermined. The mother
keeps amassing evidence that the boy is not her son, and the corrupt police
have no recourse other than to use an obscure legal procedure to have her
committed to an asylum, for she must be mentally ill if she will not accept
her own child! The police have gotten away with similar machinations in the
past, but fail this time because of the efforts of a crusading minister whose
life is dedicated to the relentless exposure of police incompetence and greed.
True story. And the screenplay stays as close as possible to the facts of
Although Changeling is considered an important movie (8.1 at IMDb and two
Golden Globe nominations), and features both a major star in Angelina Jolie
and an esteemed director in Clint Eastwood, I'm not going to devote as many
words to it as I normally would. The reason is that the
Page for this film is absolutely superlative. In terms of background, it
says everything I would have said and more.
In terms of evaluation, I have only a few minor points:
A) I liked the overall look and feel which Eastwood gave to the 1920, and I
was impressed by the the sparse, melancholy score, which he wrote himself.
He's a talented man.
B) Overall, the movie doesn't work for me. The fundamental reasons are
1) Most important, the film goes on about half an hour after the story I
described above has ended. The final act is about a serial killer who may or
may not have killed the real missing son, and his story was basically just an
epilogue which had only a peripheral relationship to the story of the mother
and the police. In my opinion, the final 30 minutes (or so) could have been
covered with a single word slide. We do want to know what happened to the real
son, and the motivations of the imposter, but the serial killer's back-story
is one of those "meanwhile, in another movie ..." digressions.
2) Changeling breaks Scoop's first rule of biopics, which goes something
like this: "If we did not know in advance whether the story were true, but
simply watched it cold, would we still find it a good movie? A factual film
must be able to exist on its own, without leaning on the crutch of truth." I
watched this film and did not know how painstakingly accurate it was.
Therefore, in addition to the anti-climactic nature of the film's final act, I
also objected to elements of plot and characterization which I considered
melodramatic, unrealistic, and lacking in nuance.
Having established that, I have to admit that I did study the details of
the story after I watched the film and, having done that, I found it
completely shocking and terrifying that such a thing happened in the USA in
the 20th century. Little hadd I known that reality was unrealistic in this
case. I then realized, in retrospect, that the film did effectively drive home
the emotional core of that shock and terror.
So there you have it. If you watch the film knowing that it presents a fair
and accurate account of a true story, and are interested in such a story, you
will probably be profoundly moved and will undoubtedly lose a small portion of
whatever faith you have in the essential goodness of mankind. If you watch it
cold, as I did, you will likely find it to be melodramatic and unrealistic,
because sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.
You make the call.
Angelina Jolie is forced into
a shower, de-lousing, and body cavity search when she's admitted to the
mental hospital. I have to admit that those are more or less the same
procedures I would subject Jolie to if she were admitted to my care.
Unfortunately, very little of her naked body is visible.