Thursday, 5 March 2009


Directed by Clint Eastwood, the story of Christine Collins is a pretty harrowing affair. Angelina Jolie stars as Collins in a film apparently based on a true story.

It's March 1928 and Collins is unexpectedly called out to work. She's a telephone supervisor. On roller skates. Stay with me. It's 1928. They probably did those kinds of things back then. Anyway she returns from her shift to find her son 9-year-old son Walter has vanished.

And so begins a relentless pursuit of the truth behind Walter's disappearance. At every turn there is a development which offers hope to Collins, before ripping it away in the cruellest of ways. At a certain point you find yourself thinking that no woman could possibly have endured this much false hope followed by such crushing disappointment, yet at no point does he lose faith that she will find her son.

The corrupt Los Angeles Police Department are less convinced, and so hatch a plan to convince Collins that her ordeal is over. The plan is simple enough. They just find a boy that looks more or less like Walter, and hand him over. Collins' protests at being re-united with a boy she has never met before (if that is possible) spark a chain of events that would seem even less plausible were we not remembering that all of this is true. Apparently.

Forced incarceration, electro-therapy, fingers in private orifaces. It's all here as Collins feels the full force of the LAPD's determination to exhibit her as a psychiatric case study, and thus continue to revel in the glory of having 'found' Walter. The handling of Collins' transformation from worried mother to cuckoo's nest in-patient could have been handled a little smoother.

Some of the acting is unconvincing, especially Jeffrey Donovan's portrayal of police captain J.J.Jones. We're hearing him give the reasons why he thinks Collins would deny the new boy is hers, but the sane among us are not believing a word. Also, and without giving too much away, the performance of young Eddie Alderson as the boy who unlocks some (but crucially not all) of the secrets of Walter's disappearance is decidedly shaky. Even for a child.

The best performance in the film is probably Jolie's, although points are knocked off for a shower scene which shows us absolutely nothing of interest. A monumental waste of potential I'm sure you'll agree. On a similar theme John Malkovich is slightly under-used as the reverand pastor who helps unravel the LAPD's web of lies, and provides support for Collins during some very dark moments. Yet the most interesting performance in a film is often that of the villain, and the same is true here as Jason Butler Harner has you believing absolutely in the simple-minded madness of the man responsible for Walter's abduction.

I'm not a parent but I found it difficult not to be moved by the plight of Collins. I should imagine that anyone sitting at home watching this film with the little ones tucked up in bed upstairs will feel the emotion several times more intensely.