Side-stepping that inevitable crash that would soon drag America’s economy through the dust and mud, Changeling is centred more on the roars before the storm. Clint Eastwood had already worked through the pangs of agony that came from the Great Depression, but was clear there that light could be found in the darkest of situations. Changeling flips that. It is the cynical and inevitable role reversal. A story based on the Wineville Chicken Coup murders; Changeling is a film set on showing the horrors of the high life. Great times may roll on around us, but that does not mean we must take part in them. Sometimes our minds wander to more pressing issues, as they do for Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) a phone operator and agonized character.
Changeling does not so much make an example of her but adapts a very broad and identifiably cold story to the big screen. Its talented cast of Jolie, John Malkovich and Amy Ryan especially make for an outstanding collection of performances. There is that inevitable period piece tint to this feature, though. It is slightly murky and brown, sloppy in its design as J. Edgar would be only a few years later. Even then, the visuals may be ugly, but the performances are not. Jolie offers a stunning lead role here, hitting all the right notes of grief and anguish as only a mother could feel for the loss of a child she seemingly raises independently of anyone else. It is her and her boy against the world, and the loss of the latter is the magnificent and harrowing talking point for Changeling.
Such great performances are to the benefit of Eastwood, who turns in a late-stage career effort on par with his demonisation of the Roaring 20s and accidental companion piece, Honkytonk Man. One shows the thrills of life in desperate times, the other shows desperate times in a life still stuffed with thrills and comfort. Solace comes in many forms. For Honkytonk Man’s Uncle Red (Eastwood), it was booze and a knack for music. For Jolie, it is her child. We are shown in both instances what would happen if a character and their vice were to part ways, but Changeling offers a more permanent state of shock and analyses it with genuine compassion and interest.
There is the sudden loss, the realisation that comes and the subsequent fallout of grief and panic. Changeling may have those three stages, but it blurs them together rather swiftly and effectively so. Jolie brings this together with such natural abilities, a real treat to experience her performance as worried mother Christine Collins. Malkovich turns in a fine performance too. Overshadowed somewhat by Jolie, his work as the Reverend Gustav Briegleb reunites him with Eastwood, although one man finds himself in the directing chair now, where he should be. Eastwood cements himself as a man capable of churning out a companion piece to a film only those great Eastwood buffs will have experienced. An odd but integral and enjoyable pairing, Honkytonk Man and Changeling share similar tones but are completely varied in how they respond to the innocence of childhood, and the fragility of economic satisfaction.