To say Jolie gives a fantastic performance is to sell her short.
Watching Clint Eastwood’s new film, Changeling, is a difficult and frustrating emotional experience, as the film makes the audience helpless spectators to the plight of a woman who is given no voice in her struggle against a corrupt system in 1920s America. These feelings are exacerbated by the fact that it is all true. Writer J. Michael Straczynski spent years researching the Wineville, Calif., murders that took place to avoid labeling the film "based on a true story" and to simply state "a true story."
The film tells the story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother in 1928 California whose son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith), disappears one Saturday while she is at work. For four months she does her best to live her life while spending every available minute calling various California counties, inquiring if any children had been found that matched her son’s description. After months of waiting, she is visited at work by Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) of the L.A.P.D. and is told that they found her son.
At the train station, with the press watching, a young boy is delivered to Collins, who immediately knows he is not her son but a boy she has never seen before. To prevent her from causing an embarrassing scene, Captain Jones convinces her to go with the ruse, which is clearly to make the L.A.P.D. look good in front of the reporters.
To say more about the plot would be to the detriment of the viewer and the fine film Eastwood has crafted. Throughout the remainder of the film, we see the disturbing power the police had at that time in our country’s history and the absurd lack of voice that women had with which to defend themselves.
To say Jolie gives a fantastic performance is to sell her short. She is not only perfect as Christine Collins, but she embodies the character with honesty and simplicity unlike any other performance in her career. Christine Collins has one goal, one desire in life, and that is to get her son back; Jolie gives us everything she has to convince us that there is no other motive except the safe return of her child.
Eastwood does a phenomenal job of making the audience an accomplice to Collins’ distress. We are shown everything she is not. We know what else is going on, who is to blame and where she should be looking. We are held captive, in silence, as witnesses to vicious truths and horrifying acts of which Collins has no knowledge. Like the brutal emotions and violence that fill Eastwood’s other films, Mystic River and Letters From Iwo Jima, Changeling forces the audience into submission through what is only a fraction of what Christine Collins experienced; all the while we are without a voice. Is this how Christine Collins felt?
Two other performances must be noted: Donovan as Captain Jones, a man who is given orders and follows them to the letter, never questioning his own choices, and Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott. As soon as Harner appears on the screen, you will not be able to take your eyes off him. He is the one person whose fate is sealed but whose role is left ambiguous. | Matthew F. Newlin