Clint Eastwood has had an outstanding career in cinema as an actor, producer, and director. His 2008 project Changeling was an instance in which he showcased his skills in the latter category. This dark, mysterious, and dramatic film is based on the true story of a young boy’s disappearance in Los Angeles in 1928.
Certain unique factors are incorporated into the filming in order to give the audience an authentic feel for the time period. For instance, the movie opens in black and white, and then slowly converts to color. Still, the lighting is more of a gray illuminance rather than full-color. This makes for a fascinating cinematic experience. There are other social issues of that time that are touched upon in the story as well.
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a single mother raising her son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith), working a full-time job as a phone operator as well. One day when she returns from work, she is shocked to discover that her son is nowhere to be found. After four months of a police investigation, Christine is thrilled beyond measure when she is informed that Walter has supposedly been found alive and well. However, we see a sudden emotional transformation take place when Christine is reunited with a boy who is in fact not her son. The police claim that this child is Walter Collins, and the boy says the same thing. Christine knows her son very well, refusing to accept this lie being fed to her by the police and the boy. Christine continues to fight for the truth, taking her stand against a police force that is full of fraud and corruption. There are three character conflicts encapsulated in this portion of the story. Christine must face herself and decide whether or not she is positive about her position (Man vs. Himself). She is also fighting the dishonesty of the police force, a major pillar of society (Man vs. Society). On top of all this, Christine still has no idea what the truth is regarding her missing son (Man vs. Unknown). As we see Christine’s struggles, the audience palpably feels her raw emotion as well. She is a single mother who has had her only family taken from her, and the police are portraying her as mentally unstable. There are moments where we see her hopeless and in utter despair. Yet, she picks herself back up and moves forward.
When Christine Collins is placed in a mental institution by order of the police, allies on the outside pitch in to assist her. Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) is well aware of the lack of integrity in the LAPD, using the influence of his radio show to gather together a great deal of support. Soon, crucial details emerge in the Walter Collins case that are significant enough for Christine to be released from the mental facility. Further investigations reveal that she was right all along about the boy that had been returned to her, as he is actually not Walter. A lot of public awareness is raised concerning how incredibly widespread the corruption is in the police department. This paints a realistic picture of the 1920s. Crooked cops were a tremendous societal issue during this era. Also, the supposed inferiority of women is illustrated. Christine meets many other women in the mental hospital who have been placed there unjustly by the police. These elements of the story make it apparent to the audience how different this time period was compared to present times.
While a solid answer is never provided to Christine Collins about her son, she makes great mental and emotional progress as more details and clues emerge. Her character’s evolution throughout the story is a critical component of the film. However, I believe that this would be the case with any mother who went through these experiences. It is the unbelievable storyline that leads to these changes. Christine’s character arc would not have been noteworthy without the events that produced it.
The elusive closure that Christine Collins seeks in the case of her missing son comes tantalizingly close on a few occasions. A situation arises that is definitely connected to Walter’s disappearance, but final clarification is never given. Yet, this will not stop a strong, independent mother from continuing her search for answers. Christine casts aside the social narrative that women are the weaker sex. She makes it abundantly clear that she can survive without a strong man in her life.
In regarding some cinematic elements specific to Clint Eastwood, it is worth noting that many of his films are historical adaptations of nonfiction events. This is the case for Changeling. While Eastwood certainly used poetic licensing to propel the story forward, he captured the essence of what really happened in California with the Walter Collins case. He is also known for creating films revolving around prominent societal figures and issues. Invictus, J. Edgar, and American Sniper are all prime examples. This aspect of Eastwood’s filmmaking is not surprising, considering some his outspokenness in the political realm in real life. It is always interesting when a director can leave his personal fingerprint on a film in this manner.
As far as my personal opinions go after viewing this film, I thoroughly appreciated it as a whole. The drama, suspense, and emotional connections made Changeling a success in my eyes. The acting was remarkable all around. Each individual portrayed their respective characters with real, authentic performances. In reviewing these strengths of the film, Changeling earns a “B+” grade from me.