Clint Eastwood just refuses to quit making awesome movies, and this is proving to be very difficult for die-hard fans like me. We are stuck in a quandry as to which of his movies we like the best, as each successive one just proves to be just that tad better than his previous ones. In 2004, when I saw “Million Dollar Baby” I thought that this was pretty much the best movie that he could ever make. He then followed it up with back-to-back movies “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima“, both dealing with the incidents of ‘Battle of Iwo Jima’ in WW-II. While one dealt with an American story, the other one dealt with the Japanese viewpoint of the same battle. As if this double-whammy was not enough, Eastwood went ahead and made “Changeling“, which in my opinion is probably one of the most hard-hitting movies that could ever be made based completely on true incidents which rocked Los Angeles in 1928.
The movie begins with Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returning home to discover that her nine year old son Walter Collins is missing. Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) whose only mission in life is to discredit the LAPD ensures that Christine’s plight is given enough publicity through his radio programme, that the cops are forced into action. Several months later, Christine is informed by the cops that they have found her son and have arranged for a reunion, only for Christine to discover that the child that the police present to her as Walter is not her son but somebody else.
When Christine protests at the public reunion, the cops fearing negative publicity and bad press force her to take the child home on a ‘trial basis’. Later on when she confronts the police with physical discrepancies between Walter and her ‘son’, the police blame her of being insensitive and shirking her responsibilities. When the Reverend informs her of the corrupt practices of the LAPD and the Gun Squad’s rule over the streets of Los Angeles, Christine goes ahead and tells her story to the press. This enrages Capt. JJ Jones of the LAPD enough to send her to Los Angeles County Hospital’s psychopathic ward.
In the hospital Christine learns of the plight of other women who have been sent there by the cops only for challenging police authority or rubbing them the wrong way. There she is made an offer by the Head of the institution who promises to set her free if she signs a document absolving the police of any wrong-doing in the Walter Collins’ missing case. When she refuses to do so, she is forced to take mood-regulating pills and is declared delusional and depressive.
While all of this is happening, LAPD detective Ybarra in the course of deporting a 15 yr old illegal alien stumbles upon something shocking enough that changes the entire missing children angle completely on its head. What he discovers and how it affects the rest of this movie is not something that I would like to disclose as part of this review. Suffice to say that despite being a true incident, this particular angle to this story is what makes it all the more riveting and interesting.
The themes dealt with in this movie – Police Corruption, Feminine disempowerment, Children and Violence, are all universal themes even today and this is what makes Changeling all the more relevant in today’s world, where differences and strife are what make more news.
The movie also is particularly notorious for its no-holds-barred treatment of the scenes involving the psychopathic ward and one scene involving a public execution of a criminal. Eastwood in various interviews mentioned that these were deliberate as he wanted audiences to get a first-hand feel of things that they normally would probably never get to see in their real lives.
Changeling, apart from Eastwood’s master direction also includes stellar acting performances by Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Most of the scenes involving Jolie are reasonably poweful ones with a lot of human emotions in full display, and to be honest, I was more than just impressed with the apparent ease with which she performs these scenes. But like I mentioned earlier, the riveting screenplay despite the story being based on a true story is what took the cake for me as far as this movie was concerned. The attention to detail paid by the entire crew to replicate Los Angeles of the late 20s and early 30s is truly commendable. This is a ‘period movie’ in every meaning of the term. The entire crew probably didn’t miss even a beat when they recreated almost an entire city and a way of life which existed around 70-80 years ago.
Wonder what Clint Eastwood is going to come up with next. Knowing him, he is probably never going to ‘retire’ from this wonderful world of cinema. And God bless him for that!!!