Oscar 2008: Amy Ryan in The Changeling

Clint Eastwood's period thriller “Changeling,” set in Los Angeles in the late 1920s and early 1930s concerns police corruption and injustice that pervade our legal and welfare authorities.

In the film, Dr. Jonathan Steel is a psychiatrist who brutally rules the County mental ward, in which Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is forcibly placed under a “Code 12,” after her “Code 12” was a catchall excuse to punish anyone who dissented, protested, caused trouble, or objected to police methods. In actuality, it punished more women than men.

One of Steel's unwilling patients was Carol Dexter, a prostitute who had a relationship with a police officer that went awry. Dexter, now forced to endure subhuman treatment at the hands of the mental ward's staff, becomes an unlikely savoir to Christine Collins after the grieving mother's incarceration. The detainee enlightens the terrified Christine on the realities of their arrest, and attempts to spare her the indignities to which she's been subjected.

To play the “soiled dove,” a term of the era for women of the night, Eastwood cast the brilliant Amy Ryan, Oscar-nominated last year for playing the irresponsible mother of the kidnapped girl in Ben Affleck's “Gone Baby Gone.”

Ryan says she was eager to visit another era of American history to play a wrongly accused character: “Carol says to Christine: 'If we're crazy, meaning women, nobody has to listen to us.' If a woman had an opinion or went against any voice of authority, she must have been crazy. Therefore, the attitude was 'lock them up!'”

Angelina Jolie last played a character in a mental institution was in 1999, as escape artist Lisa Rowe in “Girl, Interrupted,” for which she won the Best Supporting Oscar. That role was similar to Amy Ryan's in “Changeling.” Says Jolie: “In that film, I was certainly more Amy's character. I was the more aggressive, kind of fun one.”