This is a solid police procedural and period drama based on the true story of the disappearance of Walter Collins, a 9 year old boy in Los Angeles in the late ’20s. Angelina Jolie is excellent as the distraught mother, who butts heads with the corrupt L.A.P.D. and pays the price, but never, ever gives up. Like Zodiac, the movie recreates a city at a certain time- this is Los Angeles on the cusp of the depression, and Christine Collins (Jolie) is a rare single mother, working as a switchboard operator. One day she is called in on a weekend, and she tells Walter she’ll have the neighbors check in on him. He’s a quiet, well-behaved boy. But when she comes home, he is gone.
Her calls to the police go largely ignored; they assume he’s a runaway, and there is little they can do except see if he shows up as a lost child. In the meanwhile we hear Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) on the radio, railing against the corruption of the L.A.P.D. And we get to see it first hand, when Christine refuses to be ignored and beats her head against the wall that is Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan, Sleepers). Months go by, and finally Walter is found- traveling with a hobo in the midwest. After the corruption charges, the higher-ups in the force want a big photo op for their success. But when the train arrives, Christine doesn’t recognize her son. Surrounded by police and reporters pressuring her, she admits that perhaps he has changed, and takes him home.
A mother knows her own son, but eventually she proves to herself that he is indeed a changeling- another boy masquerading as her son. He is 3 inches shorter, but refuses to do anything but call her “Mom,” even when confronted with friends and teachers who he doesn’t recognize. The movie has an almost supernatural creepiness, as we generally trust children. The story goes places you don’t want to imagine, as Christine hunts down her real son. The movie is based on occurrences we imagine only happening in the present day, and not in the wholesome past, but monsters have always been with us.
They take some liberties with the truth and the third act is a bit weak; not knowing when to end the story, making us think some justice was done when it wasn’t, and giving us a silly “saved by the bell” rescue when Christine is thrown in a mental institution. But the acting is solid, the story heart-wrenching and chilling, because the basics are very true. Angelina Jolie gives a strong performance, and Eastwood’s direction is some of his best yet, with the cinematography standing out. This would make a fine pairing with another great crime drama, L.A. Confidential. It is based on the true story of the Wineville Chicken Murders, and how corruption in the police force let the unthinkable occur while they lined their pockets- something we should not soon forget.

Rating: 4 shots of Angelina being firehosed out of 5