A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 1920s-set drama recounts real-life events that could be quite disturbing to children and young teens. It examines the disappearance of a young boy who was likely murdered; some upsetting scenes show what might have been his ghastly misfortune. There are some gory images, and wrongfully imprisoned women are treated very badly in a psych ward. Authority figures are unreliable and commit betrayals, and there's some mild swearing (including a few uses of "f--k") and period-accurate smoking.
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What's the story?
A retelling of real-life events, CHANGELING documents the harrowing circumstances a Los Angeles mother faced when the city's severely corrupt and inept police department forced her to take in a child who wasn't hers. In March 1928, 9-year-old Walter Collins vanished without a trace, only to be found five months later -- or so the cops claimed. Although his mother, Christine (Angelina Jolie), knows immediately that he isn't her son, she's pressured to take him home, convinced by police Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) that she's merely in shock. But she quickly regrets her decision and pushes back, insisting that the search for Walter be renewed. Cops and higher-ups, anxious to rid themselves of a public relations mess, throw her into a psych ward, but Christine is resolute, especially when she discovers she has the backing of a local preacher (John Malkovich) hell-bent on unmasking the police department's faults. In the meantime, a wayward teen (Eddie Alderson) may hold the answers to Walter's disappearance.
Is it any good?
Suspenseful and stirring, Changeling is fine moviemaking in full display. Director Clint Eastwood's light touch is apparent, emphasizing storytelling above all else. And why not? The material is certainly compelling (though some details were changed). Jolie is impeccable as a mother shoved to the brink of sanity. Noticeably de-glammed, her grieving mother almost makes us forget that she's half of a very starry celebrity couple.
And yet: Changeling does suffer, if only for a little bit. While the first two hours pass by swiftly and movingly, the tale goes slack when it chases every last detail to its end. Christine's stay at the psych ward, two parallel court cases, even another mother's luck at finding her own boy -- they're fascinating plot threads, but they ultimately serve to diminish all that came before. Perfect (or near-perfect) movies know when to end; this one, sadly, does not.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. What does it say about people in positions of authority? Is the implication that all such people are unreliable, or just the characters in the movie? Why do you think Christine was betrayed the way she was? Do you think something like this could happen today? How would you characterize director Clint Eastwood's approach to telling this story? Families can also discuss the film's accuracy. Why might filmmakers bend the truth when making a movie based on real life? How could you find out more about Christine's case if you wanted to?
- In theaters: October 22, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 17, 2009
- Cast: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, John Malkovich
- Director: Clint Eastwood
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 140 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some violent and disturbing content, and language.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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