But having said that, ‘Changeling’ is, for an essentially populist work, unexpectedly audacious, advancing way beyond the call of duty in all its basic four elements. Firstly, as a period-reconstruction costumer, it is meticulous to the point of affectionate in its realisation of the lost world of 1928 LA, while never allowing such ‘colour’ to obscure or upstage the human drama. As a police investigative procedural, too, it mounts a sober, credible, yet searing critique of the famously corrupt political and law enforcement establishment of the day, led by Chief Davis (Colm Feore). And, as a variation on the campaigning/woman-in-jeopardy movie, it illicits Jolie’s finest performance to date, as the woman, Christine Collins, who faces her worst nightmare – the kidnap of her 9-year-old son, while a child killer is known to be at work.
Jolie’s task is to show each calibration of her maddening dilemma (at one point she is incarcerated in a mental institution), caught as she is between suspended grief, fear, isolation, anger and – most movingly – her maternal feelings towards the imposter (Devon Conti) in her care. But, lastly, it is the restrained clarity of Eastwood’s exposition throughout this roller-coaster ride that is most impressive. He shows the horrors in the same way he observes Christine’s courage, all the while careful only to allow his sympathies to register by means of the tense and empathetic emotional line he keeps at every stage of his heroine’s hellish experiences. It’s a tough movie but also rewarding and inspiring: something of a quiet triumph.