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Vol. LXII, No. 45
 
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO BECOME FOUR INCHES SHORTER THAN YOU WERE BEFORE YOU DISAPPEARED?: Christine (Angelina Jolie, right), who, despite her protestations to the contrary, was pressured into accepting that the child in the picture (Devon Conti) was her missing son Walter (Gattlin Griffith, not shown). However, every test that Christine subsequently applied to the imposter only proved to her that she was correct in her belief that this child is not her real son.

Changeling: Mysterious 1928 Kidnapping Revisited Courtesy of Clint Eastwood

Kam Williams

When a movie opens with a message stating that what you’re about to see is “A True Story” you would expect to see an historical drama far more credible than the patently absurd Changeling. Perhaps if director Clint Eastwood had qualified the claim with words like “Based upon” or “Inspired by,” the picture’s preposterous premise might have been a lot easier to accept.

The movie opens on March 9, 1928 when we are introduced to Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother raising her nine-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) in Los Angeles. As part of her job with the phone company, Christine moves around the floor of her workplace on roller skates as she supervises a bank of operators.

The plot thickens when she agrees to fill in for a co-worker on a Saturday, and has to leave her son Walter home alone. When she returns after work, the boy has vanished without a clue, so she calls the police and files a missing persons report.

Several months later the cops tell her that they have found Walter alive and well in DeKalb County, Illinois and that he’s coming back to Los Angeles on a train. However, Christine can’t believe her eyes when she sees that the child who disembarks from the train is not her missing child, but is an impostor (Devon Conti), who’s four inches shorter than her son was when he disappeared.

This is where the movie starts to make no sense. Instead of accepting the mother’s assertion that this child was not hers, we’re supposed to believe that the Los Angeles Police Department pressured Christine into accepting a perfect stranger as her missing son. Apparently the department was more concerned with getting positive press coverage for cracking the case than with reality.

Doesn’t that sound inhuman? And how long could a young impersonator keep up such a charade, even if he had wanted to? Wouldn’t the fraud have been exposed the first time “Walter” went out to play with his friends, visited relatives, greeted neighbors, or returned to school and was unrecognized by his teachers or classmates? Something simply doesn’t add up here.

Be that as it may, the authorities’ reaction to Christine’s attempts to provide them with physical evidence that proves that the child is an imposter, is to have her committed to a mental institution. They make no attempt to ascertain the accuracy of such a readily verifiable claim as to whether or not her son was circumcised. Additionally, a support group led by Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a corruption fighting crusader, apparently had no impact on the authorities either.

However, when a mass grave with a score of bodies was uncovered on the ranch of a serial killer (Jason Butler Hamer), the powers-that-be started to believe that Christine might not be psychotic after all.

After she is released from the mental institution, she enlisted the pro bono assistance of an attorney (Geoffrey Pierson), and the dominos started to fall. In the wake of a publicized review board hearing, the careers of the Mayor (Reed Birney), Chief of Police (Colm Feore), and a police captain (Jeffrey Donovan) were destroyed.

Regrettably, neither the painstakingly recreated period backdrops nor the casts’ inspired performances outweigh Changeling’s fatal flaw which rests upon a fanciful conceit, pretensions to the truth notwithstanding. A crime saga strictly for the very gullible.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity, violence, and disturbing content. Running time: 141 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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