Angelina Jolie cries so much in this film that it's like she's begging for an Oscar. Yes, this film is a tearjerker and Jolie does much of the heavy lifting. What you think might turn into a Prohibition-era version of Girl, Interrupted (1999) morphs into a pretty powerful, onion-peel of a drama.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, this film does something that two of the 78-year-old director's previous efforts also do. It starts out as one thing and then becomes another. Could this film be the third in a trilogy of changelings?
In this film, Jolie plays Christine Collins, a woman whose child goes missing. Months later, the police deliver another child claiming to be hers but who isn't actually her son. Collins tells the police they've made a mistake, but, the police don't want yet another mistake on their record.
So, Collins has two problems on her hands. One is her missing child, which kicks the whole story into gear. The second is the corruption of the Los Angeles Police Department. Remember that this is pre-DNA, pre-Civil Rights Movement, so substituting one child for another was something with which one could more easily get away.
The film starts off in thriller mode, and one becomes intrigued by this missing child story. Craftly, Eastwood changes the film, opens it and evolves it into this great exposé. Granted, I haven't seen all of Eastwood's films, but it's worth noting that this is the third time in this past decade that he's done this.
It's not as if Eastwood is like Collins and a changeling occurs without his consent or out of his control. Eastwood is deliberate in his direction and shows that cinema can be used to comment on broader and more important things.
Million Dollar Baby (2004) started out as a boxing flick and changed into a commentary on euthanasia and faith. Flags of Our Fathers (2006) started out as a WWII combat flick and changed into a commentary on propaganda.
The period details couldn't be more on point. The music, also by Eastwood, flows nicely and is never overly melodramatic. The cast of adults, led by Jolie, hit all their marks in slick harmony. Some of note include Michael Kelly (Loggerheads and Invincible) who plays disillusioned detective Lester Ybarra, Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) who plays abused hospital inmate Carol Dexter.
I also want to take space out to praise relative new actor Jason Butler Harner. Harner had a small role in Jolie's film The Good Shepherd (2006), but, he really goes nose-to-nose with her here, as Gordon Northcott, in a portentous performance that I would say is Oscar-worthy.
What Eastwood does, besides evoking good emotions from his adult players, is also band together some great performances from a group of child actors. One I must point out is Eddie Alderson who I first saw on ABC's One Life to Live as Matthew Buchanan. On that daytime soap opera, Alderson merely had to react opposite whatever drama was cooked up for the adults. Alderson was more or less a placeholder. Here, he plays Sanford Clark, a highly conflicted young man who is pushed to the breaking point and who literally has to dig up the horrendous dirt.
Eastwood also digs. What he unearths is deep and profound, an 80-year-old crime that brings forth a great character and a resounding case.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for violent and disturbing content
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 21 mins.