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Stars: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner, Michael Kelly, Reed Birney

Director: Clint Eastwood

One hopes that miscarriages of justice such as that shown in Clint Eastwood's new film, with its typical attention to detail and atmosphere, couldn't be repeated today, at least not in this form. To be fair, the narrative does take place 80 years ago in a Los Angeles where corruption and injustice within the city's police force was rife.

Jolie, lips a scarlet gash in Bette Davis tradition and looking more like Anne Bancroft than her familiar self, is Christine, a working divorcee mom - she's a roller-skating supervisor at a telephone exchange - with an eight-year-old son, Walter, whom she is obliged to leave at home when called to fill in for a sick colleague.

When she returns, Walter is gone. The police refuse to do anything for 24 hours, and weeks pass before they call Christine and tell her Walter's been found. The initially sympathetic lead detective, Jones (a terrific performance by Donovan), turns against Christine when she declares the found boy is not her son, and becomes a thorn in the department's side. So much so that Jones decides to have her sectioned - locked up in a psychiatric hopsital straight out of The Snake Pit, full of other women who have crossed the police.

Despite the imposter being disowned by his teacher, doctor and dentist in the meantime, it's only the efforts of the local minister (Malkovich in a mannered performance) that get Christine released, coupled with an honest detective (Kelly) discovering a mass grave of children's bodies at a remote ranch - one of whom may be Walter.

This is an interesting, horrifying and sometimes harrowing case history, a little long in the telling. Jolie tries hard but seems unsuited to the role, though there's plenty of good stuff in the supporting cast, notably Donovan, Ryan as a fellow inmate at the asylum, and Butler Harner as the creepily grinning child killer.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Universal. Technicolor.
141 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 23 Nov 2008