Formulated yet convincing

Inspired by a true story, Changeling evokes shock and sympathy as the audience becomes absorbed into the world of 1920’s Los Angeles. Armed with an all-star cast (including Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich) and a story that serves as an inspiration goldmine, Clint Eastwood presents a moving, beautifully crafted film that thoroughly captures the viewer, despite a few overdramatized moments and missed opportunities.

Christine Collins (Jolie) is a single mother whose nine-year-old son, Walter Collins, is abducted one Saturday while she is at work. Upon returning home and discovering her son is missing, Christine immediately calls the police, but is informed that her case will not be considered until her son has been gone for at least 24 hours. This first brush-off by the Los Angeles Police Department only hints at the corruption and scandal underneath the surface.

After a five month investigation, Christine is approached by Detective Ybarra (portrayed by Michael Kelly) who informs the woman that her son has been found alive, and will be returned to her. The result is a highly publicized reunion, in which the priority is obviously drumming up positive press for the LAPD, rather than reuniting mother and child. When Christine finally sees the child, she instantly tells Detective Ybarra that the boy is not her son, but Ybarra persuades her to take the boy home √¨on a trial basis.”

When Christine continues to insist that the child is not her son, Detective Ybarra creates every possible excuse for disproving her claims and discrediting her as a person, in order to avoid embarrassment for the department.

Reverend Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich) is fighting alongside Christine, trying to expose the criminal history of the LAPD through his radio broadcasts and sermons. Despite their efforts, Christine is forcibly committed to a mental institution, where she discovers that she is not the only woman who was taken into custody to prevent her from revealing the LAPD’s dirty little secrets.

The image that Changeling presents is astounding, creating a highly detailed look into the past, complete with the architecture, fashion and technology of the period. Each character seems equally committed to drawing the audience into the world of the 1920ís, occasionally to the point of forcing out historically appropriate, awkward-sounding dialogue.

While the primary characters are interesting and compelling, during the course of the film they occasionally resort to filing themselves under stereotypesóthe desperate mother, the political activist, the ruthless villain.

The real downfall of Changeling seems to be Clint Eastwoodís presumption that he has discovered a fail-proof formula for classic cinema. Take one part big name cast, one part dramatic √¨true story√Æ script, and one part giant budget devoted to sets and costumes, and voila-instant Oscar Winner.

Although this formula does, surprisingly, work well throughout the movie, there are a few cringe-worthy moments where overacting meets clichéd writing.