Clint Eastwood is sort of like one of those Supreme Court justices who goes to Washington with one set of ideas, firmly established over a lifetime. After a few years’ exposure to bright shiny new folks who drop hints about how warmly they’d welcome him if only he’d merely renounce everything he stood for, the justice discovers the virtues of “evolving” — and the price of holding firm.
Once Eastwood made military movies, Westerns, and cop movies. Now, following his anti-military (Flags of Our Fathers) and anti-Western (Unforgiven) films, he has one last mission to complete, with the anti-cop picture Changeling. By coincidence, his early movies never won Oscars. Now Eastwood finds himself with armloads of awards every winter. He is fully evolved.
Changeling isn’t a terrible movie. It’s a well-made if workmanlike product, an involving drama with an especially pleasing sense of period detail. But it’s also small, earnest, and formulaic. Its dialogue lands consistently on the nose and the superb production values dress up a story with the same DNA as your standard woman-against-the-world TV movie.
Angelina Jolie, who has crossed the line between thin and emaciated, plays a young single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son disappears while she is at work at the telephone company. After a while, cops deliver her son back to her. Except, as she loudly insists from the start, it isn’t her son. The cops tell her to pipe down and not make trouble lest she be thrown in a mental institution.