Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (TV’s “Babylon 5”)
While truth may be stranger than fiction, it’s not always a wise decision for a screenwriter to choose to include events of a true story that, although accurate, seem all too tactless and build up to oddly written scenes. As a period piece set in 1928, “Changeling” is beautifully shot frame by frame and well directed by Clint Eastwood. As a dramatic suspense thriller, however, the problems lie in J. Michael Straczynski’s overambitious script.
“Changeling” begins when Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother working at a phone company, comes home to find her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is missing. Turning to a corrupt LAPD, who is trying to improve their tarnished image with its citizens, Christine is speechless when Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) tells her that her son has been found. The problem with that statement, however, is that the boy Capt. Jones presents to Christine is not her son, but another kid who insists his name is Walter Collins and that Christine is, in fact, his mother.
Feeling forced by Capt. Jones to take the boy “home on a trial basis,” which is a funny enough idea until Christine actually does it, Jones tells the worried mother that she doesn’t recognize her own son only because she is shocked to see him after a few months. While at home, however, Christine realizes the young stranger now living with her is three inches shorter than her son and is circumcised, unlike Walter. Her proof isn’t good enough for the LAPD, however, as Capt. Jones has accepted all the praise from the local media, and closed the case.
When Christine continues to ask questions and wonder why the police force would try to hide their mistake, she is tossed into a mental hospital for evaluation, a move made only to silence her from embarrassing the police department’s shoddy detective work.
By this time, Christine has already built her case against the LAPD with support from an number of people including Walter’s teacher and doctor, who said they would testify on her behalf that the boy brought to her is not her son. Help is also offered by Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who mission in life is to uncover the criminal actions of the LAPD, and broadcast them on his local radio show.
While it all makes for an interesting episode of “The Twilight Zone,” screenwriter Straczynski drops the ball on behalf of Jolie’s time onscreen. By the halfway point, his choice to do this becomes exhausting especially when a lot of loose ends aren’t tied up. As this is happening, the story hits a fork in the road and causes more distractions before its 140-minute runtime is over.