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182 of 191 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2008
Format: Theatrical Release
Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" is not easy to watch, but I implore you to give it a try. This is filmmaking at its finest. It's all at once heartbreaking, infuriating, touching, empowering, and immensely compelling, which is to say that it taps into core human emotions without being manipulative. It tells a story so absorbing, it's as if the movie is happening to us instead of just passing before our eyes. This is appropriate given the fact that it's a true story and not merely based on a true story; screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski relied on actual articles, transcripts, and testimonies to document the story of Los Angeles native Christine Collins, whose nine-year-old son, Walter, disappeared in March of 1928. Five months later, the LAPD returned a boy Collins knew was not her son. Because the police refused to admit that a mistake was made, they deemed Collins an unfit mother and subsequently had her committed to a mental institution. But she wouldn't be silenced, and with the help of some key figures, she took on one of the most shameful cases of police corruption in Los Angeles history.

Angelina Jolie gives yet another wonderful performance as Collins, an honest, caring woman who was clearly striving for independence in a male-dominated society. She works diligently as the supervisor for a telephone company, so much so that she's offered a managerial position. As a single mother, she's firm yet nurturing, and she's upfront with her son (Gattlin Griffith) about why his father left before he was born. After Walter's disappearance, and after the wrong boy is returned to her, she initially faces the LAPD on her own, which leaves her with little since it's a tyrannical system motivated by power, not justice. There's a pivotal scene in which Chief of Police James E. Davis (Colm Feore) makes the following announcement: "We will hold trial on gunmen in the streets of Los Angeles. I want them brought in dead, not alive, and I will reprimand any officer who shows the least bit of mercy on a criminal." This is immediately followed by a shot of officers executing a line of criminals in the middle of a dark street. An elimination of the competition. For a system this dishonest, a persistent woman like Collins is seen as nothing but a disruption.

Of all the authority figures in this film, Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) is by far the most deplorable. He's obstinate and domineering, bullying Collins into taking in an imposter child, who was found with a drifter in DeKalb, Illinois. Jones has the nerve to question Collins as a mother, claiming she was so happy her son was taken that she's now resorting to phony accusations. Her insistence that he carry on the investigation lands her in a dehumanizing psychiatric hospital, where numerous disruptive women are sent to endure constant medicating and cruel electroshock therapy. A kindly but broken prostitute (Amy Ryan) tells Collins that there's absolutely no winning with the doctors. If you smile too much, you're delusional. If you smile too little, you're depressed. If you're neutral, then you've lost touch with basic human emotions. All anyone can do is learn how to behave properly.

The only person on Collins' side is Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a Presbyterian minister and community activist who made it his life's work to expose the corruption of the LAPD during radio sermons. When Collins is committed, Briegleb takes it upon himself to publicize the disappearance of her son and rally the public to support her. This puts tremendous pressure on the LAPD, as does the recent discovery of a crime scene; buried beneath a chicken ranch in Wineville, California are human remains. A mechanic named Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner) becomes the primary suspect in a string of murders. I don't want to reveal any more about this case, but I will make it a point to praise Harner for not playing Northcott as a fanatical stereotype.

Apparently, Straczynski inserted newspaper clippings into copies of his screenplay, just as a reminder to the actors that everything being depicted actually happened. "The story is just so bizarre," he said, "that you need something to remind you that I'm not making this stuff up." Indeed, a lot of what Collins goes through is so outrageous that it's just shy of being funny. She knows, for example, how tall Walter is, for she measured his rate of growth on a wall. The boy who was returned to her is three inches shorter than the last notch. Collins also notices that this boy has been circumcised; she knows for a fact that Walter has not been. A doctor sent by Captain Jones assures Collins that, after months of improper care and nutrition, children can actually shrink. As for the circumcision, well, she should never put it past a kidnapper to do something extreme.

But what about the LAPD? Should she put it past them to do something extreme, such as returning the wrong child and knowing about it? It's easy to watch this movie and feel just as emotionally drained as Collins; there are moments where I wanted to scream, others where I wanted to cry, and many where I didn't know how to feel. This is not a criticism. The success of a movie like "Changeling" depends on a strong emotional gamut that reflects what the audience thinks and feels. This is, without a doubt, one of the year's best films, a powerful human drama dedicated to the ideals of hope and perseverance.
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101 of 107 people found the following review helpful
Format: Theatrical Release
Changeling is a powerful film. It tells the forgotten story of a working-class woman who brought down the corrupt establishment of Los Angeles 80 years ago.

Angelina Jolie gives a strong, Oscar-worthy performance as Christine Collins, a single mother and one of the first female supervisors at the phone company who refuses to bow down to corrupt police when her son vanished without a trace in 1928.

Los Angeles on the brink of the Great Depression was an epitome of corruption. The police chief, James "Two Guns" Davis, had an officially sanctioned "gun squad" that terrorized opponents with impunity. When Collins' son Walter vanished, the L.A. police were embarrassed by their inability to find him. To squelch public criticism, they tried to convince Collins that a young drifter was her son. When Collins protested, police Captain J.J. Jones labeled her as histrionic and delusional and had her locked in a "psychopathic ward."

Luckily for Collins, her plight came to the attention of Gustav A. Briegleb, a Presbyterian minister and community organizer who regularly lambasted police corruption on his radio show. Briegleb helped Collins get a lawyer and tell her story. Although the movie does not mention it, Collins' case led to passage of a law that prohibited police from incarcerating people in psychiatric facilities absent due process.

Despite the compelling nature of Collins' story, it came close to being forgotten. The old records were about to be incinerated when a city worker telephoned screenwriter and former journalist J. Michael Straczynski and told him to come over and take a look. What Straczynski read that day was so compelling that he spent a year poring over city archives to reconstruct the case.

Straczynski has said that he wrote the script to honor Collins: A woman whose "simple question, `Where is my son?' brought down the entire L.A. city structure."

Changeling owes its aura of authenticity to Straczynski's meticulous research; verbatim quotes from the files and direct testimony from the public hearings are incorporated into the script.

The film's power also owes to its feminist message about a strong woman who refuses to be silenced by a corrupt establishment. The scenes from the public hospital's "psychopathic ward" provide a grim reminder of the horrors faced by women who were labeled as crazy for resisting male authority.

Clint Eastwood was a great choice of director to tell this story. The acting is uniformly excellent, the plot presses forward inexorably, and attention to detail is exhibited throughout. The location shots are masterful in transporting us back in time, as Collins (Jolie) hops on and off streetcars in a convincingly reconstructed 1920s Los Angeles.

Although the film closely parallels the actual history, viewers should be aware that Eastwood took some dramatic liberties, presumably to streamline the story and highlight its good-versus-evil message. We don't find out, for example, that the missing boy had a father who was serving time at Folsom Prison for robbery. Nor is the presentation of the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop murder case entirely accurate. Killer Gordon Stewart Northcott was indeed hanged at San Quentin, but the film does not mention that his mother was convicted of the Collins murder and spent 12 years in prison.

For those who are interested in additional background on that case, it is the topic of a just-published book by James Paul, Nothing is Strange with You: The Life and Crimes of Gordon Stewart Northcott. Former San Quentin warden Clinton P. Duffy also wrote about Northcott in his memoirs. Another source of information is the film's website,, which has reproductions of some of the actual L.A. Times news articles on the case.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Christine Collins: The boy they brought back is not my son.

Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):

1. A single mother's only son is missing
2. It takes five months for the Police to reunite the mother and the boy who said "I am the one"
3. But she knew that the kid was not her son
4. The Police Captain insisted: "Don't go Changeling. She'll love you just the way you are"
5. But she didn't
6. ... and she learned the hard way why the Police Force had such a bad reputation
7. They said she was crazy
8. But she never gave up, always hoping that her son had flown the coop.

Based on a true story, this heartbreaking movie may be difficult to watch, especially if you're a parent. A mother's greatest nightmare comes to life when her only child goes missing, and this unfortunately is just the beginning of a sordid tale of incompetence, stubbornness, malice, abuse of power, madness and murder.

Angelina Jolie more than earns her Oscar nomination as Christine Collins, the young mother at the center of this story, and good performances are also seen from John Malkovich as a fiery Presbyterian minister, Amy Ryan as a wronged woman, and Jeffrey Donovan as the Police Captain that you'll hate for a long time.

Recommended for fans of true crime stories, Angelina Jolie, and period movies that nail the sets and wardrobes.

Amanda Richards, March 15, 2009
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is fantastic story-telling, well put together, all elements
in place and making perfect sense. Such have become the earmarks
of a Clint Eastwood film..his taste and touch is impeccable
as both a director and producer!
(Of course, his acting, when he is acting, is nothing
to sneeze at either!) Angelina Jolie did a wonderful job
as a woman in the late 1920's who endures an unimaginable
ordeal that must be seen to be believed!
There were some moments that had me on the end of my seat
and others that I almost couldn't bear, mainly the brutality
of the child murderer who is revealed later into the film!
Even though she is not reunited with her son, the story still
finds a way to end on a ray of hope.
This was definitely an oscar-worthy performance in a year
of many oscar-worthy performances!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The movie is superbly done. Jolie is magnificient as the mother who strives against a corrupt system to bring justice. The sets, the location, and the pacing are all very good. However, I can't say I enjoyed the movie. It is a hard movie to watch. The topics are kidnapping, corruption, and mass murder. The emotional impact is brought home with gritty realism.

In summary, I strongly recommend watching the movie. The movie is about heroism and bravery in face of fantastic odds. The movie is extremely well done. However, I don't know if I recommend buying it. It is very hard hitting and disturbing movie in some ways. The realism is the strength of the movie. I would recommend renting it and then buying it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2009
Format: DVD
Considering the critical reverence visited on each new Clint Eastwood film, it's odd how underrated this powerful film was. A.O. Scott's review in The New York Times was particularly irksome, as it seemed more a review of Angelina's likely Oscar campaign than the film itself. Perhaps the way this movie was advertised may have gotten people thinking it was Jolie giving an acting showcase in some modern day "woman's picture". But, I'd liken this movie more to pictures like L.A. Confidential and Zodiac than to some kind of big screen Lifetime movie. And I'd rate the movie higher than both Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River, both fine films. But I couldn't stop thinking about this film for days after seeing it. It's Eastwood's most emotionally powerful film.

Jolie is sensational in the lead, and I hate the notion that this is just some canned Oscar-bait. Again, the ads made it look like she has these big "acting" outbursts. In fact there's only two such moments, and they're so powerful when you know who she's shouting at. She creates a heroic portrait of an independent woman of the period and she's not at all anachronistic. Her hands flutter around her face, not as some histrionic mannerism, but because her character's struggling with her reticence amidst her nightmarish situation and her position in society in general.

The film has an outstanding cast. Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice and John Malkovich are both superb. There are two actors I was unfamiliar with who play cop and killer and this film should propel them into major roles, they're both extraordinary. There's also especially good work from the young boys in the cast.

Also, social conservatives who always bash Hollywood, should take note of the film offering a heroic portrait of an American religious leader with Malkovich's role.

I blanched at the running time on this, but it never lags. It's hard to call something this disturbing "entertaining" but it is wholly satisfying.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2009
Format: DVD
Here is an outstanding film by Clint Eastwood which features Angelina Jolie in a performance that is as powerful as anyone's has been. Yet the Academy has all but shut out both of them recently. What gives?
On to the film: Christine Collins is the anguished yet strong mother whose son is taken while she's at work. It's 1928, and the LAPD doesn't want the embarrassment of people knowing they screwed up and gave her back the wrong kid. Collins is carted off to the insane asylum--a real horror chamber--and pressured to make false statements. But she's too strong and savvy to give in. She has some help from a minister, played ably by John Malkovich, who broadcasts via radio about her plight. Without him, she might not have gotten as far as she did.
There's another theme in this film about the poor status of women at that time; they were thought of as only running on impulse and emotion, and were not taken seriously.
I should caution sensitive viewers that there are some disturbing scenes involving the aforementioned asylum, a serial killer, and his subsequent fate. This is not for the faint of heart.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2009
Format: DVD
A friend told me that he despised this film, found it slow and plodding and melodramatic; so I went into it cautiously. Not necessarily with no expectations, just knowing that it might be one I'd switch off after 1/2 an hour. Well, I don't know if my friend and I saw the same film, but I was completely sucked into this. I found the performances excellent (and I'm not particularly a fan of Jolie, but she is excellent) and the setting of time an place without fault. Many times in period pieces, you get a presentation of style over storytelling, stilted dialog more fitting of noir than realism. Here, the style and the era are blended in perfectly. At about 2 hours and 15 minutes, this movie just flew by for me and each and every performance was near pitch perfect.

A fascinating movie, well acted and well directed. Give it a shot.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2009
Format: DVD
For the past 5-10 years, I have enjoyed watching the supreme acting talents of Clint Eastwood in films such as Bloodwork, Million Dollar Baby, and (most recently) Gran Torino. This film, however, also cements Eastwood as not only a top actor, but also a spectacular director.

The plot of the film centers on the story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), who after having her son Walter go missing for a few months is reunited...with the wrong boy. However, in order to save themselves some bad publicity, the Los Angeles Police Department insists that the boy IS indeed her son and, once drawn into the lie, will do whatever it takes (including institutionalizing Collins) to make sure that the truth about her case is never known. At the same time as Collins' story is playing out, the real abductor of her son, Gordon Northcott, is being investigated for the brutal murder of perhaps as many as 20 young boys, of which Walter may or may not be one of.

Like most of Eastwood's more recent films, this movie resonates with the audience in multiple ways. While watching, you will sympathize with Christine Collins over the screw-job she is getting from the LAPD, while also be horrified at the Northcott case not only because of what he did, but because he was allowed to keep doing so while the LAPD were trying to save face. Of course, you never know how much "creative license" (think Denzel Washington's portrayal of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter as a complete innocent) a director takes within a film, but in this case I trust the judgment of Eastwood. Plus, even if the LAPD were only half as bad as portrayed by Eastwood, they would still be responsible for the despicable acts brought down upon Christine Collins.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the film, though, is the performance by Angelina Jolie as Collins. While better know for her blatantly sexual roles in such films as "Tomb Raider", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", and "Wanted", Eastwood is able to do a complete makeover on Jolie, turning her into a character that we can all root for, and not just for her body. I gained a lot of respect for Jolie's acting talents by watching this film.

In a final touch, Eastwood also infuses his own simple brand of music into the film. Whereas in "Million Dollar Baby" it was the simple plinking of piano keys, in "Changeling" it is the simplistic strumming of a guitar that provides what little dramatic backdrop is needed to the storytelling. Eastwood knows that the story alone is compelling enough, so instead of opting for a dramatic score he just keeps it simple, which was the correct choice.

Thus, I recommend this film to anyone who just wants to watch a really interesting, true dramatic story. Though some of the subject matter may be a bit intense for the faint of heart, it needs to be that way in order to convey the horrific events surrounding the case of Christine Collins and her son Walter. Like nearly every Clint Eastwood project, whether acting, directing, or producing, this one will have you thinking about its events long after viewing.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
In his 2008 film "Changeling", director Clint Eastwood presents a ghoulishly and somberly hued portrait of a flapper-era City of Angels that keeps his audience white-knuckled and frequently aghast at yet another chronicled onslaught against basic human decency. Revisiting themes of corrupt misused power, an overall erosion of values and the resulting injustice against the innocent that he has explored in films like `Mystic River (Widescreen Edition)' and "Unforgiven," Eastwood creates a microcosm of a larger failed system by focusing on a sad chapter in LA history that revolves around the kidnapping of a young boy. Eastwood interjects a more brutal reality to the already horrendous events that transpired when single mother Christine Collins, a telephone operator supervisor, (a bruised-eyed and ruby-red-rouged lipped Angelina Jolie) discovers that her son, Walter, is missing. The already press-beleaguered police become involved albeit condescendingly,--Jefferey Donovan's performance as the snaky police captain in charge ruthlessly epitomizes how heady a cocktail of pressure from above mixed with the brain swell of power can be--producing another boy in lieu of the missing Walter just to give press closure to the case. When Christine repeatedly insists that the found boy is not her son, she is instantly dismissed as an incompetent, irresponsible mother who during the months the child was missing supposedly became too accustomed to her newfound freedom. The police captain rounds up a group of expert doctors to further his cause and to add insult to injury to this all too true bureaucratic straight-jacket in which Christine finds herself bound.

Eastwood drives the film with all the lead-footed ferocity of a Mack Truck crazy with speed. Christine's role as single working mother transmutes to that of emerging female individualist who by reason of her gender is either considered as a trespasser on male employment territory or a hysterical troublemaker requiring sedation to be kept under authority respecting control. As one of the little people who takes responsibility seriously, paying her civic and societal dues with a happy sense of regularity and accomplishment, she discovers that instead of the steadfastness and support she expects from a system for which she has bolstered and paid she receives more than just a negative dividend along with the remnants of her middle class ideals. Her understanding of this reaches a grizzly climax in a bleak cruelly run hospital for the insane and for women that have been incarcerated by the police under the insidious no-questions-asked Code 12.

Barring lobotomy, Eastwood pushes all this white-coated terror to the limit--masochistic hospital staff wielding water hoses and administering humiliation-inducing syphilis tests leads to no-win double-talking analysis sessions with sadistic doctors, unnecessary sedatives and the ultimate One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Classics) depravity, electric shock treatment. Phew! I had to shut my eyes more than once--all that white Gothic starchiness induced a snow-blindness I felt like a kick in the gut.

Meanwhile back at the ranch--and what a ranch--in what was once called Wineville in Riverside County--the only ethical representative of the Los Angeles police department investigates a tip regarding the deportation of a minor to Canada and discovers the horrific murder factory of child-killer Gordon Northcott. Here Eastwood steps heavily on the brakes of what up until then had been a fast-moving almost out of control vehicle depicting every depraved manner of humiliation conceivable directed at controlling the drones of the middle class. This break in the action at first seems like the eye of a hurricane, however the film although brutal in its scenes of child killing and capital punishment never hits the mark again as it does in the first ninety minutes.

Angelina does the role of Christine justice. Visually beautiful she relentlessly acts up a storm with just a residual hint of some of her former revenge minded characters (think the scary cold-hearted assassin Fox in "Wanted (Two-Disc Special Edition)") to remind the audience that this is still Jolie that it is watching. John Malkovich plays the helpful radio-minister, Gustav Briegleb, with his usual adept precision while most of the other characters formulate a body of different archetypical stereotypes that are frightening in their bleak presentation.

Bottom line? Clint Eastwood's Changeling is fraught with a disturbing energy that bombards the viewer with a stereoscope of images from another era that suggests being back in the day is no better than being around now. Depicting institutions that supposedly are designed to support and enrich the public as greedy citadels of misused power sadly reminds us of our faith in financial institutions that betray rather than pave the way for responsibly planned middle class futures. Recommended with the warning of many brutally depicted scenes of inhumanity towards the insane, child abduction and killing, and capital punishment. Eastwood chills with a razor-honed austerity that is a far cry from the sun-kissed star-studded celebrity of today's LA.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
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