LAPD business plan: 1. Return wrong child in baffling police corruption case. 2. ??? 3. Profit!
The past, I'm told, is a foreign country, and they do things differently there. Evidently this also includes police corruption, as the 1920's LAPD rather appeared to be struggling to get a handle on it if Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort Changeling is to be believed.
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie)'s world is shattered when her son is abducted, although after five weeks or so there's good news. The cops have found the lad. There's a minor problem in that the lad they've brought back quite clearly isn't her son, what with the whole looking different, being several inches shorter and being circumcised and all. For reasons that are never entirely clear, but may perhaps have something to do with overzealous cleanup targets, the po-po refuse to admit that this kid is not the droid they were looking for, instead deciding that Wilson must be crazy and lock her up for daring to challenge the divine wisdom of the police.
However, she has managed to get her story out before being sectioned, and her cause is championed by rabble rousing preacher Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich). Before long all sorts of unpleasant truths about her son's real fate and the extent of the police fucknuttery come to light and that, with surprisingly few exceptions, is the limit of what happens in Changeling.
As you may perhaps have suspected this is of the "Based on a true story" school of filmmaking, although I suspect it is very much more "based on" than it is "true story". If nothing else, I'd choose to think so as otherwise the sort of stunts the cops are shown trying to pull would be difficult for even the most iron-fisted tinpot dictatorship, let alone a public body to pull off. Or failing that, were too bafflingly stupid for any rational person to believe that the cops would believe that they would get away with it, and so they did get away with their baffling, pointless asshattery. I mean, I'd almost buy the Judge Dredd acts alluded to, allowing them to set up their own crime franchises, but an elaborate conspiracy to convince a mother that some random kid is really her son? Why? Apart from arbitrary asshattery, what on earth is the point of it all?
This rather makes it difficult to get behind Wilson's plight, and I don't think that's anything to do with Jolie's performance. By turns stoic, emotive and believable, it's just the outright oddness of her plight that stops any real connection with her character and I can't recall off the top of my head any more deserving choice for the best actress gong that is already being whispered of. Malkovich's shouty type man role is also effectively and sparingly used.
There's perhaps more to criticise with the tone of the film, which seems to swing between dramatisation and documentarian at more or less random and there's also a very noticeable disparity between the length of the film and the dearth of things that actually occur in it. This, I suppose, is where it falls back on being a character piece, and apart from one howling elephant in the room I might let it away with it.
What say you, Mr Howling Elephant? Is that a native American name, incidentally? The film's terribly dull, you say? Well, I never.
He's right, you know. This isn't a very interesting way to spent a couple of hours, and the only really interesting question raised by the film, that being why on earth the cops thought this brainfart of a replacement kid idea was a good one in the first place, goes not so much unanswered as never brought up in the first place, making this a very odd film indeed.
A bonus point for having an angry demonstrating mob carrying placards such as "Boo to the LAPD". N.W.A take note, criticism of the police need not be so potty mouthed.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
John Malkovich (Rev. Gustav Briegleb)
Colm Feore (Chief James E. Davis)