Woman's whisper, mother's cry
“Children and mothers never truly part -
Bound in the beating of each other's heart.”
Bound in the beating of each other's heart.”
- Charlotte Gray
Clint Eastwood's movies had brought me to tears many times. I spent most of the last hour of Million Dollar Baby crying, I had tears in my eyes on Mystic River and Perfect World. But it's very rarely that I feel this clenching sensation in my throat and my heart pounding in despair. There are many moments in Changeling when it happened to me, but at the scene where Christine finally erupts with anger, throws a plate against the wall and starts crying in her faint voice for her son back, I've lost it.
There are two biggest assets of the movie – first one is that it's based on actual events. Had it been fictional it would still be devastating, but the movie shows the story of the woman, who went through so much pain, suffering and had to face most of it alone that when you see it, you think it's fiction because it's just too awful to admit that such things happen. Almost everything in this story is petrifying – the corruption of the police, the games the policemen play instead of focusing on finding missing child, the impostor who is completely insensitive to mother's grief, the women trapped in psychiatric institution because they stood up for themselves, the fate of the captured boys who were slaughtered by some stranger on a farm. But because of the movie second's biggest asset – Angelina Jolie's performance as Christine Collins, no matter how the script may be disjointed at times, no matter how Eastwood loses his way and focuses too much on cliches, the drama of this woman remains the movie's core.
Jolie's performance is flawless. It's so intricate and well thought, but at the same time filled with genuine emotions. Christine was a polite and quiet woman and in 1920's women didn't have much opportunity to be outspoken or even heard. Yet Christine's quiet rebellion is seen throughout the movie – she is a single mother, she works as a supervisor, she's very honest with her son. At first when her son goes missing and then the police returns her the wrong child and accuses her of being wrong and a bad mother, she's still the woman trapped by her upbringing and the society – she constantly apologizes, thanks the police officer for nothing and even takes care of the boy who is so obviously lying. Everyone keeps telling her that she is crazy and that it is her son, but she doesn't believe them for a second. She knows in her heart that her son is somewhere out there.
Too bad because the performance like this deserves masterpiece of a movie and Changeling is far from it. The script is at fault – instead of focusing on one thing – either women situation in 1920's, police's corruption or mother's despair the writer threw in the sequences with the killer on the farm. Jason Butler Harner got amazing reviews from many critics and I don't get it. Yes, it is good performance, but nothing to rave about. And all those sequences, with ghastly farm, kids' bones being dug up, the one and only righteous cop in the entire movie who handles the case are so bland and filled with headache inducing cliches that next to Christine's extraordinary story it feels like two movies chopped and put as one.
Academy award nominated Amy Ryan brings in another great performance as Carol, prostitute who becomes friends with Christine in the hospital. There are many things that shift this movie from regular story to story for and about women – but the look Carol and Christine share when the women are freed almost makes Eastwood look like feminist. It's not a good thing when the movie is tendentious and Changeling most definitely is (best example – the phone call Christine makes right after Walter is gone – all of you and the police are well aware that more time needs to pass than few hours before the cops can start looking for someone, but because of Eastwood and Jolie you totally side with Christine in that moment when she is shocked and doesn't believe what's she's hearing). But in case of movie based on actual events, events that horrible, I'm not going to hold that against the film.
The amount of the horrible things is overwhelming in “Changeling”. In addition the movie has very sullen, sad atmosphere built with, at many times, extraordinary cinematography and lovely, subtle music composed by Eastwood himself. Fortunetly, there are few rays of hope – lovely scenes where Christine looks for evidence that the impostor is not her son, her triumph over LAPD and the ending. In real life Christine Collins never found her son. I can't even imagine the pain and suffering she must have been going through. Every time the phone rung she must have thought it was Walter. The last thing Christine says in the movie is that she has hope. But in reality, in her last moments of life, she knew she never found her son.
Changeling (2008, 141 min)
Plot: Based on true story and set in 1928 the story of Christine Collins who, having returned home late from having to work overtime on Saturday, finds her son Walter is missing from their home. As the days and weeks go by, the Collins's case becomes the object of a campaign by Pastor Gustav Briegleb who rails against the incompetence and corruption of the Los Angeles police Department. Soon, the police arrive with the news that they have found her boy but when the lad is turned over to her, she realizes that the police have returned a stranger to her in an attempt to bring an end to the public complaints about their handling of her case.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Original Music: Clint Eastwood
Cinematography: Tom Stern
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore and Amy Ryan