Clint Eastwood is one of our great directors, but this is not one of his great movies. It's good, but not satisfying.
Christine is a single parent, working at the local phone company in Los Angeles. Returning from work, she finds her son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith), gone. She calls the police, but is told they will not take a missing person report unless the child is gone for 24 hours. This inaction troubles Christine, but she holds hope Walter can be found.
All this is set against a backdrop of corrupt police in league with organized crime. Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a local Presbyterian pastor, uses his pulpit to try to point this out.
Five months pass and the police report to Christine that Walter has been found. They line up the news media to be at the train station when the boy comes home. When he arrives, Christine declares that the boy is not Walter. Capt. J. J. Jones (Jeffery Donovan) tells her that it has been five months and her emotions are clouding her perception. He tells her to take him home and give it time.
She does, but remains convinced the boy is not her son. She goes back to Capt. Jones, who tells her she is hysterical. A doctor (John Harrington Bland) appears at Christine's home, sent by the police, to evaluate whether the boy is her son. This is reported in the news, making Christine look like a bad mother while simultaneously drawing Rev. Briegleb into her life. He assures her he will proclaim her story to the world.
The story moves in a new direction with the arrest of Sanford Clark (Eddie Alderson), a young boy who tells of a serial murder at a farm outside the city. Sanford tearfully tells of his uncle, Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner), killing many children there. When he is given the pictures of missing children, he names Walter Collins as one of the ones killed.
True? The movie then follows the path of Northcott's trial.
"Changeling" just doesn't know what it wants to be or when it wants to end. It loses its way because there's no real character development. Take Rev. Briegleb. What motivates his crusade against the police? Did the police take some illegal action against a parishioner? Is he motivated by the gospel or the prophecy of Amos? We just know he's campaigning against the Los Angeles Police Department.
We also don't know why Capt. Jones so steadfastly denies Christine's claim that the child given to her is not Walter. All we can do is speculate that he is just afraid of the news media taking a long look at his handling of the case and concluding he is wrong. We don't know; all we can do is guess.
Clint Eastwood is one of our great directors, but this is not one of his great movies. It's good, but not satisfying. Instead of focusing on following the story to its many and varied ending points, it would have been better to help us understand the motivations of the people on screen.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for some violent and disturbing content and language.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski
Cast: Christine Collins: Angelina Jolie; Walter Collins: Gattlin Griffith; Rev. Gustav Briegleb: John Malkovich; Arthur Hutchins: Devon Conti; Capt. J. J. Jones: Jeffery Donovan; Sanford Clark: Eddie Alderson; Gordon Northcott: Jason Butler Harner.
The movie's official Web site is here.