by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In a nutshell:

A boy goes missing in LA in the 1920s. Some six months later, he is returned to his mother, and the heartwarming mother and son reunion is touted as a brilliant example of painstaking police work. Only one slight problem: the boy who returns to her is not her son. He is an imposter. She keeps trying to convince the police that they need to continue the search for her real son, but the police are not willing to undermine the good PR they established with their "successful" solution to the case, and are not willing to face the bad publicity that would result from having that solution undermined. The mother keeps amassing evidence that the boy is not her son, and the corrupt police have no recourse other than to use an obscure legal procedure to have her committed to an asylum, for she must be mentally ill if she will not accept her own child! The police have gotten away with similar machinations in the past, but fail this time because of the efforts of a crusading minister whose life is dedicated to the relentless exposure of police incompetence and greed.

True story. And the screenplay stays as close as possible to the facts of the case.

Although Changeling is considered an important movie (8.1 at IMDb and two Golden Globe nominations), and features both a major star in Angelina Jolie and an esteemed director in Clint Eastwood, I'm not going to devote as many words to it as I normally would. The reason is that the Wikipedia Page for this film is absolutely superlative. In terms of background, it says everything I would have said and more.

In terms of evaluation, I have only a few minor points:

A) I liked the overall look and feel which Eastwood gave to the 1920s, and I was impressed by the the sparse, melancholy score, which he wrote himself. He's a talented man.

B) Overall, the movie doesn't work for me. The fundamental reasons are two-fold:

1) Most important, the film goes on about half an hour after the story I described above has ended. The final act is about a serial killer who may or may not have killed the real missing son, and whose story is basically just an epilogue which has only a peripheral (and tenuous) relationship to the story of the mother and the police. In my opinion, the final 30 minutes (or so) could have been covered with a single word slide. We do want to know what happened to the real son, and we have to know the motivations of the imposter, but the serial killer's back-story is one of those "meanwhile, in another movie ..." digressions.

2) Changeling breaks Scoop's first rule of biopics, which goes something like this: "If we did not know in advance whether the story were true, but simply watched it cold, would we still find it a good movie? A factual film must be able to exist on its own, without leaning on the crutch of truth." I watched this film and did not know how painstakingly accurate it was. Therefore, in addition to the anti-climactic nature of the film's final act, I also objected to elements of plot and characterization which I considered melodramatic, unrealistic, and lacking in nuance.

Having established that, I have to admit that I did study the details of the story after I watched the film and, having done that, I found it completely shocking and terrifying that such a thing happened in the USA in the 20th century. Little had I known that reality was unrealistic in this case. I then realized, in retrospect, that the film did effectively drive home the emotional core of that shock and terror.

So there you have it. If you watch the film knowing that it presents a fair and accurate account of a true story, and are interested in such a story, you will probably be profoundly moved and will undoubtedly lose a small portion of whatever faith you have in the essential goodness of mankind. If you watch it cold, as I did, you will likely find it to be melodramatic and unrealistic, because sometimes reality is stranger than fiction can dare to be.

You make the call.

DVD Blu-Ray


3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
59 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
63 (of 100)




8.1 IMDB summary (of 10)
A- Yahoo Movies




Box Office Mojo. About $35 million domestically in about 1900 theaters. About $25 million foreign. In its first weekend of wide release, it grossed a bit above nine million, good for fourth place.




  • Angelina Jolie is given the usual hose-down when she is admitted to the mental hospital. She seems to be naked, but editing hides nearly everything.




Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A much more intense and interesting movie if you go into it knowing that it's quite faithful to the real case.