Rescued from a City Hall junk heap by journalist-turned-screenwriter J. Michael Straczinski, this 1928 true tale of a missing child's mother who became a pawn and then a target of the most corrupt police department in Los Angeles history mines events so bizarre they all but sit up and beg to be stuffed into a horror picture. Changeling has its Ken Russell moments, and the usual parade of rotten cops and pols, warm-hearted tarts and little people standing up for their rights. But under Clint Eastwood's stately, tastefully vintage direction, it's mostly a meticulously realist period drama, interrupted by lurid flashbacks to establish parallel stories building toward an old-fangled face-off between populist good and institutional evil. Angelina Jolie's implacable steeliness spices up a woman bathed in an aura of idealized motherhood only an old Tory like Eastwood could offer with a straight face, and Jason Butler Harner is wonderfully twitchy as Gordon Northcott, the serial killer who may or may not have murdered her son. But on a double bill with L.A. Confidential or just about any film made after 1970 about crime in Los Angeles, Changeling—less a courtroom drama than a Western whose heroes say little and do much for honor and social justice, while the villains do nothing and never shut up—would come off as geezer-ish noir lite.
Jolie emerges as if from an Edward Hopper painting.
Opens at Pacific Place, Fri., Oct. 24. Rated R. 141 minutes.