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Changeling is a film written by J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and directed by Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby). It was distributed in 2008 by Universal Pictures, and stars Angelina Jolie (Salt), John Malkovich (Burn After Reading), and Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice).
In the late 1920s, the bustling city of Los Angeles is being run by a police force notorious for violence and corruption. It is here that Christine Collins (Jolie) lives with her young son, Walter. When she returns from work one afternoon and finds that her son is missing, the distraught single mother begs the LAPD to help her find him.
After five months of searching the police report that they have found Walter alive in the company of a drifter. Christine is taken to meet the boy at a train station, where she realizes that the child before her is not her son. When she attempts to make police Captain J.J. Jones (Donovan) aware of this, he insists that she is the one who is mistaken, and simply doesn't recognize her own son after the ordeal he's endured. With even the boy claiming that he is Walter Collins and that Christine is his mother, the confused woman succumbs to Captain Jones' pressure and takes the child home with her in the hopes that she will begin to recognize him.
When she cleans the boy up after arriving home that evening, Christine's suspicions are confirmed: Not only is this boy circumcised when her son was not, but he is also 3 inches shorter than Walter. Her son's teacher and dentist also confirm that this boy is not her son. When she reports this information to Jones, however, he refuses to listen. Unwilling to accept that they have made a politically embarrassing mistake after the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich) has released a series of scathing radio broadcasts bringing the LAPD's criminal activities to light, the police inform her in no uncertain terms that the strange boy is Christine's son, and that the case is now closed. As Christine grows increasingly more desperate in her attempts to find someone, anyone, who will help her find her real child, she quickly learns that Jones and the LAPD will do absolutely anything to keep her from telling her side of the story.
Changeling is a hard-hitting drama that explores themes of police corruption and the plight of women in the era of The Great Depression. The events depicted in the film are based on the true story of Christine Collins and the search for her missing child. While the film received mixed reviews from critics, it was nominated for numerous awards, including several for Best Cinematography and Best Actress for Angelina Jolie's performance.
This film contains examples of:
- Adult Fear
- All in the Eyes: This effect is used in one of the scenes where the distraught Christine is in the police station, calling attention to the emotion in her eyes.
- Ambiguous Ending: Walter is not returned to Christine... but in the epilogue, one of Northcott's escaped victims has been found. He says that both he and Walter escaped from their prison, but were separated in the dark. Maybe Walter was recaptured by Northcott, maybe he got away.
- Badass Preacher: Briegleb is a firebreathing Determinator in his mission to expose the LAPD's wrongdoings.
- Bedlam House: The psychiatric hospital is used as little more than a dumping ground for women who get in the way of the police. The head doctor is a corrupt weasel with no interest in his patients' wellbeing and the nurses aren't much more than his enforcers.
- Changeling Tale: With society replacing fairies as the antagonist.
- Composite Character: Dr Steele, Detective Ybarra and Carol Dexter are all composites of several people from historical records.
- Corruption of a Minor: Sanford Clark is forced by his Serial Killer uncle to help kidnap other young boys, and later on to dispose of the bodies.
- Dirty Cop: Captain J.J. Jones, who is willing to go any length to protect the image of the LAPD, including giving Christine a stand-in for her child, forcing her to care for him, and committing her to a mental institution when she finally decides to stand up for herself.
- Face Death with Dignity: Subverted hard by Gordon Northcott. As he's led to the noose, he becomes increasingly pathetic.
- Force Feeding: When Christine is committed to a psychiatric facility in order to keep her quiet, nurses and orderlies force her to take pills to keep her sedated.
- Historical Beauty Update: The real Christine Collins was quite a plain-looking woman. She is played here by Angelina Jolie.
- Hope Spot / Foregone Conclusion: Christine's initial belief that her son has been found alive and well. It occurs twenty minutes into a 3 hour movie, so...yeah.
- Karma Houdini: The film's epilogue fails to mention that following his demotion, Chief Davis was rehired to the police force just two years later.
- Also Dr Steele, though forced to release Christine and all other falsely instated women, does not seem to face any reprecussions for his horrific treatment of his patients, and for all we know is still torturing some poor souls by the closing of the story.
- Ironic Echo: Gordon Northcott claims he did not Kill Walter and that Christine is accusing him of a crime he did not commit just like the police did to her. He is right, though that still doesn't excuse killing 20 other boys.
- Kids Are Cruel: The fake Walter, Arthur Hutchens, agreed to go along with deceiving a grieving mother by posing as her son in return for seeing his favorite actor Tom Mix. He knows full well what he's doing and smugly tells officers upon interrogation he's off the hook since he's 'just a kid' (though Detective Ybarra is perfectly willing to call a bluff on that).
- Knight Templar: Jones wants to uphold the good name of the police force, even if it means deceiving victims and using horrific methods to silence those in his way. Even as he is tried and has his crimes placed in front of him in court, he is still insistant that Christine shouldn't have interfered. Although this is open to Alternate Character Interpretation. He could simply be covering up his own incompetence.
- Lack of Empathy: And how. Made all the more disturbing by the fact it is based on a true story.
- Meaningful Echo: "Fuck you... and the horse you rode in on."
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr Steele
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: At times, Jeffrey Donovan sounds less 1920s Irish-American and more 2000s Miami.
- Parents Know Their Children: What kick-starts the movie's conflict.
- Period Piece
- Precision F-Strike: Quite powerfully used by Christine when she is asked by the psychiatrist at the mental institution to sign an affidavit stating that the police were correct all along.
- Serial Killer: Gordon Northcott, who kidnapped and murdered more than 20 young boys on a small farm in California.
- Shown Their Work: Straczynski did particularly intensive research to ensure that he could legally subtitle the film "A true story" rather than "Based on a true story." He ended up drawing on over 6,000 pieces of documentation on the case.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Northcott sings Silent Night when he's being hung.
- Villainous Breakdown: Northcott completely falls apart as he's led to the noose, demanding that he not be marched to it so fast and that he be allowed to touch every step on the way up.