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Changeling is another Oscar-worthy masterpiece from director Clint Eastwood -- a harrowing, emotionally gripping movie you won't be able to get out of your head for days.


Not to be confused with the 1979 ghost story The Changeling, this Changeling is a horror story of a very different stripe. Based on a long forgotten case buried deep in the L.A. crime files, this true tale revolves around the mysterious 1928 disappearance of 9-year-old Walter Collins. Set in an election year and with heavy political pressure on city officials and a corrupt LAPD, they find a child five months later, who they claim is Walter, and arrange to reunite him with his mother, Christine (Angelina Jolie). Only problem is she says this is not her kid. When she asks the police to continue trying to find her son, she finds herself victimized and accused of being insane and unfit for not going along with the PR campaign informing the public that the police have solved the case. With the help of a community activist Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich), she begins to fight the city and the police who try in every way to silence her, even committing her to a mental institution. The film details not only her valiant quest to right a wrong and find her real son but serves as a probing indictment of the police state 1920's Los Angeles had become.


As in her searing portrayal of the pregnant Marianne Pearl in last year's A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie once again connects with her maternal side. In another challenging role, she must exhibit a wide emotional range, going from fear to anguish to anger to pure resolve in an effort to uncover the mystery of her son's abduction. Splendidly outfitted in '20s garb, Jolie delves deep into the soul of a woman who dared to go against the grain and challenge a corrupt police department in Prohibition-era L.A. She's simply remarkable in the most intense, determined and heartbreaking role of her career. As the man who helps out in her cause, Malkovich is perfectly matched to Jolie. As the merciless Captain Jones, who heads the investigation to find Walter, Jeffrey Donovan (TV's Burn Notice) is properly frustrating and imposing, while Colm Feore gets the evil side of his LAPD police chief down pat. Nailing her few scenes, Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) plays a fellow psycho-ward inmate, who helps Christine when she is institutionalized. Particularly impressive is Eddie Alderson as the 15-year-old nephew of the serial killer, who leads police to a grisly crime scene and his uncle, played a bit over the top by Jason Butler Harner. And filling out their juvenile roles nicely are Gattlin Griffith as Walter and eerie Devon Conti as the young man impersonating him.


Clint Eastwood knows his way around ominous, foreboding material, so it's no wonder he was instantly attracted to J. Michael Stracynski's immaculately researched script. After Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River, Eastwood exhibits a strong understanding of the dark side of human nature. Changeling fits right in with his oeuvre, and he delivers yet another superbly crafted and acted film -- one that exists on two separate levels as a look at the corruption that crept into the LAPD of the era and as an impassioned journey of a woman trying to find a happy ending for herself and her son. Shot with the director's usual ease, Eastwood seems comfortable letting the almost unbelievable facts of the story speak for themselves and remarkably didn't change a word of Stracynski's fascinating screenplay. He doesn't have to. The fact that it's a true story, that all really happened, is simply incredible by itself. This is an unforgettable triumph for everyone involved.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.