Changeling

Changeling

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imagine that your child had disappeared. That's harrowing enough, especially if you're a single parent with little in the way of emotional support. Now imagine that, after months of investigation, you were told he had been found, and you rushed to be reunited with him, only to discover that the boy waiting at the station - the boy you were told to take home and care for - was not your son.

This is only the start of the escalating horror that the heroine of Changeling has to endure, and there's no opportunity to close one's eyes and tell oneself it's just a film - it's all based on a true story. J Michael Straczynski became obsessed by the case of Christine Collins and her son Walter after coming across court documents that were about to be destroyed. Much of the dialogue in the film's court scenes is taken from these verbatim, but it's seamlessly woven into the whole, never striking a false note. Straczynski's script is a masterpiece of understatement and restraint, and Angelina Jolie is riveting in the central role.

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Clint Eastwood's films are always well made and Changeling is beautiful to look at throughout, enhancing the air of sublime suburban normality that makes the unfolding horrors all the more gut wrenching. It's also worth remembering that Eastwood was promoting strong roles for women back in the Sixties. It's still rare to see a film built around an actress like this, but Jolie is more than up to the task. She disappears into Christine, giving us somebody who is physically vulnerable, naive, and terrified half out of her wits, yet who is also brave, resourceful and utterly convincing.

Much of what actually happens in Changeling is relatively familiar fare in cinemas today, but it rarely comes across with this kind of impact. Eastwood has always known how to hint at things in a way much more horrific than seeing them directly could ever be, and this perfectly complements the mood of the film, in which it is what is not known that drives the action throughout. It's gruelling to sit through and you may well feel haunted by it for a long time afterwards, but this has always been an important point in Eastwood's agenda - he wants to remind us just how horrible the crimes we watch as entertainment really are.

If there is one flaw in this otherwise superb production, it's that John Malkovich delivers another of the heavily mannered performances that he seems to have been turning in everywhere of late. This sits at odds with the rest of the film's raw and realistic tone, but thankfully he isn't actually in terrbly many scenes. Everybody else is spot on, especially Jason Butler Harner as the disturbed individual who may or may not know Walter's true fate.

There are very few major releases these days with the maturity and weight of Changeling. Yet it's not just a plea for the Oscars it will undoubtedly receive - it's a compelling story that needed to be told.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2008
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True crime story about a mother whose problems are compounded when she is reunited with a boy police claim is her missing 10-year-old son.
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Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: J Michael Straczynski

Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Colm Feore, Jason Butler Harner, Amy Ryan, Geoffrey Pierson, Denis O'Hare, Frank Wood, Peter Gerety

Year: 2008

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA

Festivals:

New York 2008

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