Stories, like people, have all sorts of different shapes. Some are short and lean, others long and muscular. Then there are a few -- pardon my political incorrectness here -- so flabby and shapeless that they ought to have a go on the Nautilus for a while. The Clint Eastwood-directed Changeling falls into the last category.
Based on actual events from the late 1920’s, the film centers on Christine Collins, a single mother from California whose son, Walter, mysteriously disappears from their home one day. After months of searching, the Los Angeles Police Department produces a boy to much fanfare -- only he isn’t Walter. When Christine’s pleas fall on deaf ears, her plight gets taken up one Gustav Briegleb, a fiery Presbyterian minister who has made it his goal in life to root out civil corruption.
Some of Eastwood’s dilemma comes from the complexities of history: The Walter Collins’ case was far-reaching and multifaceted. Still, narratives require redaction, even the most factual, and here the film doesn’t know its head from its tail, changing genre as often as a surgical nurse does gloves. What starts straightforwardly enough soon moves toward political-protest territory before shifting into a paranoid thriller and then becoming the most grisly kind of crime story. (I’ll hold back on further revelations, but the inquisitive could look up the history of Mira Loma, California, if they want spoilers.) It ends -- mostly -- as a courtroom drama, but not before subjecting viewers to at least four pseudo-climaxes and then denying them a coherent resolution. This exercise in frustration reminds us that stories do best when assuming a single shape.
(Picture: CC 2008 by The Beauty I See)