When trailers first started hitting television last year for “Changeling”, I remember thinking it must be a conspiracy thriller. It is a thriller; it is about a conspiracy, but not the one I expected.
Changeling is based on a true story that took place in 1929 Los Angeles, California. Angelina Jolie brings in a stellar performance as Christine Collins, whose 9-year-old son Walter disappears one day while she is working overtime at the telephone company. Five months later, a corrupt LA police department claims to have found Walter in Illinois, but Collins insists that the returned boy is not her son.
Previews of the film–and the film itself–concentrate on the powerlessness of ‘delicate’ women in the early 20th century, while treating the real horror in the story as a mere plot point. While there is no doubt that the treatment of Christine Collins was horrendous, the persecution and murder of the real innocents–the children–is where the emphasis of this tale should have centered.
Walter Collins may or may not have been one of the victims of the “Wineland Chicken Coop Killings” (in truth, police never resolved the issue), but as many as twenty boys did die at the hands of serial killer Gordon Stewart Northcott. The story of each one of these twenty demands telling. Rather than force viewers to contemplate the soft and predictable issue of the victimization of women, Eastwood should have honed in on the far less palatable story of a failing society that sees children as disposable ‘prey’.
Despite these misgivings, Eastwood’s film does, at least, resurrect the ghosts of those who died in Wineville (now called Mira Loma), so I recommend the film to you for that reason. Also, the DVD gives us a chance to meet two remarkable child actors: Eddie Alderson as Sanford Clark, nephew to serial killer Northcott, and Gatlin Griffith as Walter Collins. Though Griffith’s role is small, he holds his own in scenes with Jolie. Alderson’s Sanford Clark breaks your heart as he confesses to helping his uncle murder and bury as many as twenty boys–and that he knows he will go to hell for it.
This film’s pacing is slow at times, but the cinematography is appropriately moody, and the setwork beautifully evokes a dreamy, almost complacent 1929 LA. In that, Eastwood gets it right. We are all sleepy, complacent, and all too willing to look the other way, so long as our lives remain quiet.
As an adjunct, I urge all readers to conduct an internet search for information on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. The truth behind this ‘true story’ will chill you to the bone.
|Angelina Jolie||John Malkovich|
|Jeffrey Donovan||Michael Kelly|
|Amy Ryan||Denis O’Hare|
|Jason Butler Harner||Colm Feore|
|Gattlin Griffith||Devon Conti|