J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame wrote Changeling, which is based on the true story of one woman's fight against corruption, incompetence, accusations and intimidation, all the while in searching for the truth of what happened to her beloved 9 year old son, who vanished without a trace, only for the LAPD to try and convince her that the boy they found, was indeed her son. But that's just the gist of the first hour with plenty more in store, keeping you gripped to the screen as the story develops.
I continue to admire the very human stories under the direction of Clint Eastwood. His films over the last few years have been nothing less than excellent, and Changeling adds to this stellar repertoire of his. There's a certain quiet confidence in the way his films get presented, like a veteran hand masterminding all elements to fall in place perfectly. What more, it's always a treat to have the film's score composed by Eastwood himself, and the main theme is already buzzing in my head already, way after the end credits have rolled.
But of course the star of the show here is Angelina Jolie. While we had not the opportunity to watch her dramatic turn in A Mighty Heart on the big screen where she plays a woman searching for her husband and for the truth, we do get to see her here playing a mother searching for her child and for answers. I particularly liked the line where she said she's not here to pick fights, but she sure would finish one, and that practically sums her her fiercely combative character in a film where she doesn't get to literally kick arse.
I guess local distributors prefer to play it safe and continue to feed us with the alpha-female roles that Jolie plays, from Lara Croft to Wanted, that it's a rare opportunity to see her in a dramatic role, reminding us that she has won awards before for such roles. This is certainly a chance not to miss, because there are numerous moments where she demonstrated her acting chops. I still cannot forget that one brilliant scene, which was almost the equivalent of Ralph Fiennes' in The Constant Gardener, where she didn't have to say her word, but just her expression alone had painted the phrase "prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best". That alone is worth the price of an admission ticket. I suppose being a real life mother, she would have no problems with translating what would possibly be any mother's fear of losing their child suddenly and without explanation.
She provides a very solid performance that hinged on everyone in the audience being able to connect with her plight and exasperation, of sympathizing with her, and rooting for her as she faces obstacle after obstacle as she goes about doing sensible things that the authorities frown upon. You'll seethe with rage when others give that can't-be-bothered attitude to a helpless mom, and feel pity that while more could be done, no finger was lifted. You'll share that tinge of hope that things will turn out for the better, and feel sad at the disappointments faced along the way, each time hoping that the outcome would be better than the last.
And here's where Straczynski's story excels. There are a number of threads running that converge nicely together, and while the movie clocks in over 140 minutes, you'll never feel time plod, as you get engaged into the story, feel for the characters, and at the same time, enjoy the excellent recreation of the 1920s. There's a little bit of everything that managed to cram itself here, from mystery to courtroom drama, showcasing a variety of story settings, dealing with themes such as justice and integrity.
It also contains a very strong critique of authority which is given too much power without proper checks and balances, that such power could be corrupted and abused for personal gain, before it takes those who are resolute in doing the right thing, to push for change. John Malkovich has a supporting role here as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, who has a congregation behind him as he tells it as it is in his weekly radio shows, and provides much needed intervention to assist Jolie's Christine Collins along the way.
Changeling becomes the first movie this new year that I would highly recommended without hesitation. Go watch it when it opens on the 15th!