Angelina Jolie gives a storming performance as a single mother, in 1928 Los Angeles, whose 9 year old son goes missing. This is based on a part of the true story of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, and not "based on" in that slightly tenuous way that's rife within Hollywood - it pretty much chronicles the way it happened, down to the minor details.
The Los Angeles Police Department back then was corrupt, but not in the way we understand corruption in this day and age. They were crime lords, in control of prostitutes and drugs, and the Chief of Police created a unit called the "Gun Squad". Essentially, a group of machine-gun toting animals who openly murdered anyone who was competition, and did so while wearing the badge - no fuss no muss, no investigations, no questions asked.
So when this very dangerous, very corrupt police department organise a very public reunion between Christine Collins and her son, and she sees that the boy in front of her isn't her own, where can she turn? The rest of the movie attempts to answer that question. It fails, though. Not because the movie fails, but because the system - such as it was - failed in 1928.
When her child first went missing, she was met with indifference and red tape by the authorities; she was left to wander the streets looking for him for 24 hours. It's unimaginable given today's culture and response when it comes to the safety of our children.
We're used to seeing scenes where the house is filled to capacity; police file in and out constantly, the FBI comfort the parents while tapping the phones, and Family Liaison Officers stay 24 hours a day to lend support. That's what we're used to, and that's what we expect, so to see her completely alone, unable to get people's attention, is a genuine shock to the system. By the same token, today we have DNA testing, independent review boards and investigations into corruption within statuatory bodies, sexual equality where women are no longer the overly emotional "little lady"... and seeing how different it was then, how different it would have been for this woman, is truly awful. And when you see her having to share her home with this stranger instead of her child, it makes you feel claustrophobic and trapped on her behalf.
The film is *beautiful* to look at. The colour green features heavily, and most scenes are flooded with natural light (both of which very cleverly add to the feeling of disorientation and panic because if we're not safe when it's green, and wide open and in the light, when are we safe?) Equally, LA looks stunning - the 20s was a beautiful period aesthetically, and Clint Eastwood (he directed) absolutely revels in it. It's sumptuous - a visually awesome example of a rotting core beneath a sublime exterior.
But despite its beauty, Changeling is bleak, and cold, and a degree of hopelessness will stay with you for a long while after the credits have rolled.