Sunday, February 7, 2010


From director Clint Eastwood comes Changeling, released in 2009, and nominated for 3 Oscars (including Best Actress in a Leading Role), the film is set in the 1920's and is based upon the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, who comes back one day to find her son, Walter, missing from home. She contacts the LAPD, and after a few months, a boy is returned to her - a boy claiming to be Walter, but who is not her son. Christine contacts the LAPD to tell them about their mistake, only to be called hysterical, crazy, and accused of trying to shirk her responsibilities as a mother. Soon, she is forced to question the system and the police officers themselves, even dealing with confinement in an insane asylum along the way. Her daring journey into the power-hungry and corrupt police force's workings are the basic premise of the movie, even as she is confronted with the glaring possibility that her son might be dead, one of the victims of a paedophile's grisly murders on a chicken ranch.

Perhaps the strongest point about this movie is the acting. While it tends to go over-the-top at times, it still makes for a solid foundation, convincing us with emotions like hope, dread, fear and even disgust, at different scenes in the movie. Angelina Jolie's constant pout, however, tends to distract from the movie, and her stick-thin frame is a little unnerving to observe. That apart, she is convincing in the role of Christine Collins, persuading us to sympathise with her, as the mother who has lost her son and is willing to take on an entire police force to get him back.

John Malkovich makes an appearance as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, who is intent on helping her with her cause. However, he is sadly underutilised in the movie, providing nothing more than a few lines and scenes at best. Michael Kelly is good at Detective Lester (the 'good cop' who takes the trouble to unearth the mystery behind the missing boys), Colm Feore is quite decent as Chief Davis, and Jeffrey Donovan (remember Vance Munson in Hitch) plays the drunk-on-power, corrupt-as-hell quintessential 'bad cop', who misuses government regulations to maintain his position. Credit goes to Jason Butler Harner, who plays Gordon Northcott - he plays the paedophilic maniac to perfection, right up to his last scene where is being hanged. Mention must be made of the young boys who all turn in stellar performances - especially the one who plays Sanford Clark, the nephew of Gordon, who is forced to participate in the murders.

Changeling is the story of one woman's fight in the face of all odds, it is the struggle to tackle those whom are supposed to protect us, and while one could argue strong feminist angles, I'd say the most important theme of this movie is hope. For Christine continues to hope and pray that her son is alive somewhere, despite being faced with harsh reality that suggests otherwise. With a length of 240 minutes, it gets a little dragging after Gordon is hanged, but right up till then, you never notice that the minutes are ticking by - the period look of the 20's and 30's, the great acting and direction, the human drama and emotions, and the conflict between good and bad - all draw you in so much that you are quite lost to everything but Christine Collins and her horribly sad situation.

Part emotional drama, part crime mystery, part thriller - it's a movie that works, and stays with you. Watch Changeling, and don't judge it for not sticking accurately to the facts. While the movie has kept many of the essential details intact, it has made minor changes and made additions for the sake of being a Hollywood movie, but that apart - it is still what it is - a powerfully disturbing human-angled film, one that forces you to question the bonds of love, what defines them, and whether they can stand the test of negative forces that threaten to tear them apart.