Changeling is a true story. Not "based on a true story," but a true one—a claim that writer J. Michael Straczynski reportedly had to work closely with the studio's legal team to make, citing and authenticating every scene in this lengthy, Clint Eastwood-directed, Depression-era period piece. And while the true story is, in fact, remarkable, the other side of the coin is that Changeling's faithfulness causes most of its flaws: It drags at points, and its austere and formal tone sucks much of the blood out of the drama.
The film concerns itself with the case of Los Angeles woman Christine Collins (a perfectly suited Angelina Jolie), whose nine-year-old son goes missing. Five months later, the police present her with a boy they say is her son—but he isn't. At first, the police attempt to convince Collins that she must not be thinking clearly, and eventually they start accusing her of shirking her responsibilities as a mother.
Collins' battle against the deeply corrupt Los Angeles Police Department eventually sees her locked up in a mental institution—but in time, she's joined in her struggle by Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who made it his mission in life to expose the LAPD's wrongdoings. Meanwhile, a serial killer is kidnapping and axe-murdering young boys in nearby Wineville, California.
However true, the delineation of good guys and bad guys in this film is woodenly simplistic, as are the uncomplicated issues at hand. (Axe murdering = bad, imprisoning independent women in icky mental institutions = bad, etc.) But if you can overlook its lack of nuance, Changeling does tell, with meticulous accuracy, a fascinating, gruesome, and admirable tale.