Well written and well-acted, Changeling is a top notch crime drama from director Clint Eastwood.

The Los Angeles Police Department has come a long way since arriving at its current acclaim as one of the best law enforcing units in the United States. Brainchild of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) now used in all major crime fighting units, the LAPD’s tainted history in police corruption and brutality is brilliantly depicted here with shocking consequences. While L. A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls were also films with a similar theme depicting police corruption of a bygone era, this film exceptionally stands out for a varied number of reasons.

At the fore, yet behind the lens is an actor turned director who needs no formal introduction. With filmography panning more than five decades including four Academy Awards as a director, Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood masterfully tells a story that is not only based on actual events, but tells it in a way where you get more than what you expect. Changeling is a film made with such potent ingredients, the outcome is a rare achievement in filmmaking these days.

Meticulously set against the late 1920s backdrop, this gruelling narrative has Angelina Jolie playing a single mother insistently pursuing the truth behind her son’s abduction. As Christine Collins, she is met with brutal opposition from the very people sworn to serve and protect. In order to save face from public embarrassment and outcry, Captain J.J Jones (Jeffery Donavan) of the LAPD partially resolves the situation by finding an imposter that closely resembles the abducted boy. But a mother knows best, and Collins immediately points out this discrepancy, embarking on a single-handed confrontation with top yet corrupt LAPD officials. When Collins prepares to tell her story to the press, she is packed off to a mental institution and is branded a delusional mother dangerously spiralling out of reality. Locked up and treated like a psychopath, her only aide emerges in the form of Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a high profile public figure hell bent on taking down corrupt police officers. Their victory however is short lived when she learns that her son, amongst several other boys his age, may have been the victim of a deranged serial killer, resulting in a landmark case against the LAPD.

Precise scripting, stellar casting that makes for tight acting, flawless cinematography integrating factual geographical locations, costumes and props, and a nostalgic score also composed by Eastwood, are the ingredients I mentioned earlier. Acting alone is top notch starting with a visually and verbally influential Malkovich whose very presence forms some of the most commanding scenes in the film. The same goes for Geoffrey Pierson as Collins’ attorney in a sensational court room drama. Jason Butler Harner as the serial killer and Donavan as Captain Jones are superb as the two villains in roles sure to invoke utter loathing. Saving the best for the last is Jolie in the most significant role of her career, powerfully portraying a mother’s pain. A far cry from some of the mindless action movies she occasionally stars in, Jolie is to this film what Julia Roberts is to Erin Brockovich, because at the core, this is one woman’s true struggle against a male dominated world.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.