Changeling is the incredible story, based upon actual events, of Christine Collins’ quest to find her young son Walter, missing without a trace. It is also the story of appalling corruption in the government and police department of 1920’s-’30’s Los Angeles, which apparently has been a significant problem of long-standing. A third subplot involves a serial child killer who may or may not have had contact with Walter, and a forth presents a horrific view of the psychiatric ward in a local hospital. Angela Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, and Michael Kelly all turn in admirable performances in spite of the need to cope with a too-lengthy script that verges upon melodrama in many spots. Scenery, lighting, sets, and costuming combine to convey an authentic period feel in a film that is grimly somber from start to finish. Some scenes (a hanging and some ax murders) are graphically disturbing, though brief, and Eastwood’s score is subtle and unobtrusive; as a director, he has generally relied on the story line to stimulate emotion, rather than music to create it artificially.
While it does bog down in places, this is a movie worth viewing, for its ability to demonstrate how easily a corrupt system can damage the lives of countless individuals who place their trust in it.