At first, Clint Eastwood's CHANGELING could appear to be following too closely in the footsteps of his earlier Oscar winner, MYSTIC RIVER, since both films center on a missing child. But while his previous film was based on a Dennis Lehane novel, CHANGELING carries a particular weight because it is based on a true story, and one that isn't largely known. Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins, a single mother working in 1928 Los Angeles when her son goes missing. A boy is returned to her months later by the police, but she is shocked and disheartened when she realizes that the boy isn't her son. Joined by a crusading pastor (John Malkovich), Christine battles for justice against the corrupt L.A.P.D. while she continues to search for her child. Eventually her fight against the cops lands her in a mental hospital, where she is surrounded by others with a similar plight.
At times, CHANGELING is incredibly difficult to watch. Jolie gives an authentic, anguished performance, and the on-screen tragedy is quite disturbing, largely because of its basis in reality. But Eastwood has crafted another Oscar-worthy film that is certainly worth sitting through, even if a tissue or two is required. Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski had been best known for his work in science fiction (BABYLON FIVE) and graphic novels, but he makes an adept transition to feature drama with this film. Its unusual focus--on the victim and her struggle for justice, rather than on the criminal and the crime--brings further depth to the film. As always, Amy Ryan (an Oscar nominee for GONE BABY GONE) perfectly morphs into her role (this time as a prostitute imprisoned in the mental hospital), and the film's many child actors are compelling to watch.
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