November 03, 2008 12:00 PM

Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner



Upon hearing that her son has traded punches at school, Christine Collins (Jolie) tells him, “Never start a fight; always finish it.” She follows her own advice, in spades, in an engrossing drama based on a true story. This single mother takes on the entire L.A. police department in 1928 after her only child, Walter, 9, is kidnapped and the cops return a boy to her, stubbornly insisting he’s her son despite her repeated assertions that the child is a stranger.

What makes Changeling, fluidly directed by Clint Eastwood, so fascinating is that it’s simultaneously an old-fashioned movie in its straight-ahead storytelling and a modern one in the complexity of the plot. Its scope keeps widening to include an awful crime, sexism, bureaucratic corruption and psychiatric abuse. Jolie, wearing enough eye makeup to stock an entire cosmetics counter, is movingly effective in half her scenes, and too Great Lady, movie-starish dramatic—let’s call a moratorium on single-tear-trailing-down-a-cheek scenes—in the others.

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