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Changeling: An Emotional Meat Grinder

Clint Eastwood sure isn't one to shy away from dark, gut-wrenching material for his directorial projects, and Changeling is no exception. I went into the screening bracing myself for sorrow and pain, but I didn't brace myself enough. Changeling contains all the heavy sentimentality of Million Dollar Baby and that punch-in-the-stomach anguish of injustice found in Mystic River. Add to this the terrible real-life tragedy involving innocent children and you've got a very difficult (though worthwhile) movie-watching experience.

In 1928, single mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returns home from her job at the telephone company to discover that her son Walter has gone missing. After a few months, the LAPD claim they've found her son and they bring a child, claiming to be Walter, to Christine. She insists he isn't her child but the shady police captain, J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), desperate for the LAPD to have a positive story in the news, bullies Christine into believing that she's just a woman who has been driven to hysterics by grief and worry. All of Christine's further attempts to convince the police department that her son is still at large are shot down until Jones finally hauls Christine away to a mental institution to shut her up. For more of the story and some of my thoughts on it all,


Christine's only ally is Gustav Briegleb, a Presbyterian reverend who makes it his mission to expose the corruption of the LAPD. Ultimately, detective Lester Ybarra follows a lead that brings him to Wineville, California where the disturbed Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) has been committing heinous crimes against children. Gordon's trial comes about at the same time that Christine and Gustav are bringing charges against the LAPD. All the while, Christine doggedly continues her search for Walter, spurred by her belief that he's still out in the world.

There are so many aspects of this movie that claw at the heart. There's the missing child storyline, and the infuriating treatment of Christine Collins when she asks for a decent amount of help from the LAPD. Then there's the horrifying situation (made more horrifying by the fact that it's a true story) involving Gordon Northcott in Wineville. And there's the outrageous incarceration of Christine Collins (and any other woman who dares take the LAPD to task) in the mental institute. It's just a constant barrage of emotional beatings that had me squirming in my seat, more uncomfortable than I've been at a movie in a long, long time. By the end of it, I was exhausted.

Eastwood has captured the time period remarkably well, down to the last careful detail, and any film that can evoke such fury, horror, and aching sympathy is certainly one for the ages. Angelina Jolie's performance is excellent and focused, and while it's strange to see her play someone so meek, I easily bought her as a gentle, average mother caught up in a situation more harrowing than your worst nightmare. An equally powerful performance, however, is Jason Butler Harner's as the mentally unstable Gordon. Of course we loathe this character, but Harner somehow brings a bewildering and terribly sad humanity to an otherwise monstrous person. Amy Ryan is also riveting — making her role both pitiable and strong — as another woman who has been wrongfully committed to the mental institute. These performances, along with Eastwood's direction make for a staggering film, even if it does leave your heart feeling shredded.

Photos courtesy of Universal

CarlyHP226685 CarlyHP226685 8 years
I did not know what had happened to those children was going to happen so it was very heart wrenching. The last maybe 15 minutes...i cried my eyes out. And nobody left the theatre through the credits, we all just sat there...teary eyed, just wondering how things like this can occur. It was a very sad movie but Angelina Jolie was amazing in this movie and I hope she wins an award for it. Its definitely deserving.
BlondeSugar BlondeSugar 8 years
I saw this movie last night and found it very, very difficult to watch. Like Buzz said, it was especially hard watching it and knowing that these events actually happened. Don't get me wrong, the movie was very well done. I just found the entire story line very disturbing. I literally felt sick to my stomach for HOURS after the movie. Prepare yourself if you decide to see it, it's very heavy.
lexichloe lexichloe 8 years
Haven't read many positive reviews for this flick. I've disliked the trailer I've seen. So, I won't be viewing...:)
Briandiesel Briandiesel 8 years
Excited to see this
Audrey1974 Audrey1974 8 years
Angelina at her best is what I have heard...I love HER! I can't wait for this...
nancita nancita 8 years
Wonderful review; thanks. I wasn't sure if this one would live up to the intrigue of the trailer, but now I'll definitely have to see it. Sounds like a fascinating, if hard to watch, story.
SpunkyFairy22 SpunkyFairy22 8 years
I've never seen a movie that Eastwood has directed but the trailers look amazing.
sunny1intucson sunny1intucson 8 years
Good review. I'll pass though - too heavy for the kind of entertainment/escape I want!
steen steen 8 years
How random! One of the girls in the MAC Cosmetics community on LiveJournal actually LIVES in the house where the Wineville murders committed. The internet is a small place!
JessNess JessNess 8 years
So I was doing some research about the actual story and Wineville, where the serial killer was, is now called Mira Loma which is right outside of the town I live in....creepy
PurpleLotus PurpleLotus 8 years
I can't wait to see this
Banzai Banzai 8 years
Thank you! I just looked it up and there are no showing's in my area this weekend either :(
Entertainment Entertainment 8 years
Banzai, the movie is out in some cities today and will expand to more locations next Friday the 31st.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 8 years
Thanks for the great review, Buzz. This is definitely on my must-see list. Clint Eastwood is a brilliant director.
Banzai Banzai 8 years
Okay someone help me out please, I thought it comes out on the 31st. Does it come out today or Oct. 31?
Renees3 Renees3 8 years
of course, it isn't playing at any of the theaters around here! what the hell!?!??!
creamytofu creamytofu 8 years
At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit 12bucks to see this movie. After your review, hmm I am considering to see it this weekend.
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 8 years
I can't wait to see this movie, even though I know it will be an emotional rollercoaster. Thanks for the review Buzz!
LuvLeoDiCaprio LuvLeoDiCaprio 8 years
So the LAPD has always been a crooked establishment! Can't wait to see this...
JessNess JessNess 8 years
I've been really wanting to see this! I'm glad that it is as good as it seems. I'm super excited to see Jeffrey Donovan in a big movie like this. I really like him in Burn Notice and he seems like he fits well into this role
psterling psterling 8 years
Now that I'm older I seem to shy away from movies like this, its just too hard to watch. However, this movie seems worthwhile so I may see it anyway.
fleurfairy fleurfairy 8 years
No thank you. I go to the movies to escape the bad parts of reality. Not to become even more depressed about the world.
sugar_me_sweet sugar_me_sweet 8 years
Sounds like a heavy movie
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
I can't decide whether I want to see this in theaters or wait until it comes out on video.
Allyace Allyace 8 years
I love Clint Eastwood as a director, so I'll be catching this at some point. I don't like watching super tense movies at the theater though (last one I went to was The Departed and I thought I would have a heart attack :-P), so I'll wait for DVD.
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