DVD Release Date:  February 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  October 31, 2008 (wide)
Rating:  R (for some violent and disturbing content, and language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  140 min.
Director:  Clint Eastwood
Actors:  Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan, Gattlin Griffith

Last year, Angelina Jolie was considered an early favorite for an Oscar nomination for her performance as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart. However, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Jolie’s name was missing.

Now Jolie, who previously won an Oscar in the supporting-actress category for the 1999 film Girl Interrupted, is being hyped as a Best Actress contender for Changeling. In the film, Jolie portrays a working-class mother in 1928 whose life is turned upside down after her son disappears. The praise is justified, but Jolie’s performance is just one element of a film that features lush cinematography, strong performances and potent Christian themes.

Christine Collins (Jolie) is a single mom with a strong future—a switchboard supervisor who’s in line for a promotion. When she’s asked to come in for a few hours on her day off, she does so reluctantly, promising her son, Walter, that she’ll spend more time with him later that evening. When Collins returns home, Walter is missing.

Months later, she’s told that her son has been found. Hurried to the train station by the police, who have arranged for a mother-child reunion in front of the media, Collins declares that the boy the police have identified as Walter is not her son. With reporters standing close by, Los Angeles Police Department detective J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) instructs Collins to take the boy home “on a trial basis.”

There Collins discovers that the boy is several inches shorter than Walter was upon his disappearance, and that he, unlike Walter, is circumcised. When Collins shares these details with Jones, he senses a PR disaster in the making for the department and has her admitted to a hospital psychopathic ward.

The escalating calamities that befall Collins easily could have tipped the film into TV-movie-of-the-week melodrama, but the film’s impressive look and nicely pitched performances make it an appropriate cinematic experience. Also setting Changeling apart from standard fare, whether on television or the big screen, is the story’s focus on overcoming injustice, pursuing the truth at all costs, laying down one’s life for a friend, and hope in the unseen. These are all Christian themes, and while Changeling is not primarily a story about faith, it’s a strong undercurrent in the story’s dramatic arc.

Changeling also includes one major Christian character—the Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a Presbyterian minister who leads his congregation in prayer for Collins after her case becomes public and then serves as her primary advocate against the corrupt police force. The gospel is not expounded by the preacher, but Briegleb’s pursuit of justice against opposing forces is a tremendous force for good. The fact that a major Hollywood film has a man of the cloth as its hero is refreshing.

The film’s treatment of its heroine as a victim of male oppression could have been unbearably heavy-handed, as it was in the 2005 film North Country—also, like Changeling, based on a true story. Yet in Changeling, although male characters are among the film’s villains, they also are the film’s heroes. Briegleb is Collins’ main defender, but also assisting her are Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly), who breaks open the case that vindicates Collins, and a top lawyer who takes Collins’ case pro bono. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, he tells Collins, “It will be my honor to defend your honor.”