'Changeling" is a film that you know coming in will put you through the wringer -- and not in the compelling, you'll-be-a-better-person-for-it-in-the-end sort of way.
For starters, we have Angelina Jolie once again on the hunt for a missing loved one. Some of you may remember that last year she tried to snap up Oscar gold with her performance as Marianne Pearl, the pregnant wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl in "A Mighty Heart."
"Changeling" is another true-life tale that has the world's greatest pair of lips screeching and covered in tears -- all for your consideration.
Set in late-1920s Los Angeles, "Changeling" stars Jolie as Christine Collins, a single mom who skates around during the day (literally, she wears roller skates for her job as a telephone operator) when she's not doting on her precious, 9-year-old boy (Gattlin Griffith).
The unthinkable happens when she leaves him at home to fill in on a weekend shift and comes back to find him not there. Unfortunately, this is the 1920s, and there are no Amber Alerts popping off for missing children.
From the way the movie tells it, the LAPD was more corrupt back then than it might be now. We find this out when, after five months of searching, the cops make a show for the press by sticking our heroine with a kid -- a changeling, if you will -- who's not hers, then forcing her to go along with it.
Because this is a movie starring Jolie, who seemingly only goes for movies where she beats men figuratively or literally, we know that the brutish LAPD has made a big mistake trying to shut her up. Even when they stick her in a psychiatric ward filled with fellow female thorns in the force's side, her will is unbreakable. And she's gonna make whoever has her son -- and the lawmen who still haven't found him -- pay.
You're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned that "Changeling" is another film from that acting/directing warhorse Clint Eastwood. That's because I think it's best if you don't think of "Changeling" as Eastwood's movie. While Eastwood has always had a flair for working-class melodramas (what was "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby" really but a couple of blue-chip, blue-collar kitchen-sinkers), "Changeling" is shameless and insufferable enough for a Lifetime movie-of-the-week slot. Working from a script by "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski (that kinda explains it), Eastwood gives us a tale of feminine perseverance in an age of punishing masculine oppression. (This movie would work so well on a double bill with "The Duchess.") But it's also a movie that sloppily teeters between being appallingly unbelievable and laughably preposterous.
In what may come as a shock to no one, Jolie plays the only multidimensional character in the bunch. With the exception of a noble detective (Michael Kelly) who actually finds out what happened to her son, the rest of the cops are sheisty, chicanerous louts who even have quack doctors on the payroll, manipulating Jolie's distraught mom into thinking she's nuts. So you can only guess that the rest of the cast isn't given much to work with. Even when Jolie is surrounded by actors who can easily blow her away on-screen -- like John Malkovich as a corruption-fighting, Presbyterian evangelist and Amy Ryan as a committed prostitute who gives Collins some profane yet audience-rousing words of advice -- they never, ever take the focus away from Jolie.
This is all about Jolie from the get-go. Eastwood is merely along to make sure we catch every tear running down those porcelain-pale cheeks of hers. Well, there's always "Gran Torino" at the end of the year.