Not My Son


Angelina Jolie has a new movie coming out tomorrow, Those Who Wish Me Dead. Ordinarily I’d do an Origins post but I’m just not feeling it this time. I do, however, have a germ of an idea forming, which I’ll share in a bit.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to look back at another Angelina Jolie vehicle, 2008’s Changeling. It’s also R-rated because of the heavy subject matter, but I can’t recommend it enough because it’s extremely well-done and compelling.


The film was produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also wrote the score, and follows the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mom raising her nine-year old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith). On March 10, 1928, Christine comes back from working an extra shift at the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company to find Walter missing. She combs the neighborhood with no luck, and when she calls the police, is told that she needs to wait longer before filing a missing persons report.

The police eventually return Walter to Christine…or at least a boy they call Walter (Devon Conti). Right off the bat Christine notices something’s up, because the boy‘s face is different and he doesn’t react to her the way her son would. She takes a photo with the boy anyway because Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) insists on it, but she can’t shake her misgivings. When she gets him home, her suspicions are confirmed, because the boy is three inches shorter than Walter and is circumcised.


Christine makes a beeline for the police station, where Jones basically tells her she’s crazy. Other people, however, know better. Christine is approached by a Methodist radio preacher named Reverend Gustav Brigleb (John Malkovich) who spends a good chunk of his pulpit time exposing corruption in the Lost Angeles Police Department. He encourages Christine to go with her gut, so she takes the boy to her dentist, where he swears emphatically that the kid who says he’s Walter Collins most definitely is not. Walter has a diastema that can only be fixed with surgery. The imposter hasn’t got a diastema.

Walter’s teacher is equally adamant. When so-called Walter goes into class, he sits in the wrong seat and he’s much more rude than Walter was. Both Walter’s teacher and his dentist sign affadavits saying that the kid is a poser. Christine then holds a press conference telling of her findings and promising to give all the reporters present copies of the affadavits. Gustav beats the drum on the radio, and between them, they’re easily able to rally public support.

Evan Richards

Jones, along with Chief James E. Davis (Colm Feore) want Christine out of the way, so they have her committed to a psychiatric ward without a warrant under what they call Code Twelve, where she undergoes what amounts to gaslighting and torture. If she signs a document stating the boy she brought home is in fact Walter Collins, she’ll be allowed to go free and they won’t force shock treatments or psych meds on her. To her horror, Christine finds she’s one of many who have been swept under the rug by the LAPD.

Christine is the furthest thing from out, though, because truth always comes out in one way or another. A Los Angeles detective, Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) starts sniffing around and turns up some very interesting discoveries. A young teenaged boy at a certain Wineville chicken ranch, for one thing.

Christine Collins and Walter lived approximately where the Golden State Freeway is today. (Google Maps)

Changeling is based on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, and unlike most historical films, is so meticulously accurate that if I give too much of the real history it’ll ruin the movie. It would have been even more accurate if the filmmakers had been able to shoot at Christine Collins’s actual house at 219 North Avenue 23 in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, but it’s been torn down and replaced by a freeway and an apartment building.

The farmhouse where the murders took place still exists as a private residence (see video footage of the location here), but it’s safe to say the town wants nothing to do with its notorious past, which is likely why the film was shot elsewhere. Wineville even changed its name to Mira Loma to distance itself from the horrible events that took place there. Other than that, about ninety-eight percent of the movie is presented just as it happened.

Walter Collins. (Des Moines Register)

Screenwriter Michael Straczynski did that on purpose. A former journalist for the LA Times, he was working as a TV screenwriter when a buddy of his at Los Angeles City Hall asked him to come and look at some documents that were about to be burned, and it just so happened that these papers were about the Christine Collins case. That started the ball rolling. Straczinski had degrees in psychology and sociology, so he knew how to handle the many mind games in the story.

After a year of reasearch and extensive planning, Straczynski finished the script in eleven days. Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer agreed right away to produce and shoot it, and Angelina Jolie jumped at the chance to play Christine Collins. It seemed as if everyone who read the script wanted to be in on the film.

The real Christine Collins. (Find A Grave)

While Changeling is dead-on in its historical accuracy, it doesn’t feel like a documentary. The performances, especially those of Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, are intensely understated but sincere. There’s an immediacy to the film, such as when a witness describes a murder, and we see a blurry figure swinging an axe as if aiming for the audience. When I saw that bit I almost dodged because it felt real. I’m not even kidding.

Speaking of real, I appreciate that the movie also spares no expense in terms of its look. The costumes are straight out of the twenties and thirties, and there were no token nods to our current day. Angelina Jolie and the women in the film wear the clear red lipstick and understated facial makeup that was common, as well as period foundation garments. The same goes for the men with their tweeds and leather shoes. If it didn’t exist in that time, it’s not in the film. And it’s all lit very naturally so there’s no distraction from the story.


The movie is rated R because it’s intense. We take Christine Collins’ whole journey with her, from the time Walter is lost to the time she gets a semblance of closure. Mercifully, we are spared the goriest parts of the Chicken Coop Murders, which I won’t go into, but there’s enough shown that it may make parents want to hug their kids really tight. However, the movie is also a satisfying experience because there’s a desire to see Christine succeed. At least, that’s what I felt when I watched it.

Now, about that idea I had: Since Those Who Wish Me Dead is going to be on HBO Max for the next month, I’m going to review it and post my spoiler-free thoughts on Saturday, so I hope you’ll check back then. Thanks for reading, all, and have a good one…

Changeling is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

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