Saturday, March 13, 2010


A lot happens over the course of the 140-minute running time of "Changeling." The movie tells the story of a kidnapped boy and a frantic mother's efforts to find him; it tells the story of a corrupt police department determined to do just about anything to make itself look good; it tells the story of women who are persecuted for nothing more than questioning (or even crossing the path of) the police; and it tells the story of a horrific serial killer and the efforts of a workmanlike cop to bring him to justice.

The movie stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a single mother and supervisor at the phone company (the movie establishes early on that this was a rarity in 1928, the year the story begins), and the kidnapping of her 8-year old son Walter is the event that sets the narrative in motion. Jolie does a good job conveying the anguish of losing a son, the frustration of trying to deal with a policy department that won't (and doesn't want to) listen, and then the fear and panic of someone who, too late, realizes that she's fallen into a trap from which there may be no escape.

Among the rest of the cast, the largest impressions are left by John Malkovich as the Rev. Gustav Briegleb, a man on a crusade to expose the LAPD's corruption and Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, the truly frightening serial killer. The film doesn't do much to develop the other characters, which is a shame in the case of the good/bad, night/day cops played by Jeffrey Donovan and Michael Kelly - I would like to have learned more about each of them. Donovan showed little of the spark that is on display every week in "Burn Notice," and seems to have been brought on board for little more than his mastery of accents.

The least effective part of the movie is probably when Collins is held in an asylum for her refusal to drop her insistence that the boy brought to her by the LAPD is not, in fact, her son. Parts of it are horrifying, but the entire sequence doesn't quite feel real. "Changeling" is at its best when it focuses on the quiet moments where Jolie/Collins agonizes over the disappearance of her son.

Overall, a very good movie that might have been better off as an HBO mini-series.

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