We all have our favourite actors and actresses. That little list of names that we keep in our heads, checking out the latest film they’re in, keeping up to date with their latest projects and feverishly stalking their social media accounts. We love them for different reasons; some are childhood favourites, others are ultimate crushes and some are just for their pure talent.
Then there are others, performers you love because they carry a certain theme throughout all of their movies; a common factor that you can’t help but pick out, even forgiving them for some serious cinema sins.
One such example is super vixen and total badass Angelina Jolie. Miss Jolie can do no wrong in my eyes and despite some seriously bad judgement calls on projects (I’m looking at you The Tourist) I find her style of bewitchment utterly transfixing.
Throughout her career, Jolie has mastered the art of strength on screen and has always stood out as a bad girl of Hollywood. Whether it’s through physical strength or emotional resilience, so many of her characters inspire a kind of power within their audience that stands out from other performers like her and it’s utterly addictive.
From characters such as an assassin to a Disney villain, Jolie has graced out screens in a wide variety of roles and with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil hitting UK screens on October 18th it only seems right that we dive into Angie’s back catalogue and take a look at some of her finest performances!
So here are Angelina Jolie’s top five most versitile performances.
The Bone Collector
While Ian Softley’s 1995 cult classic Hackers was Jolie’s feature film debut, her role in crime thriller The Bone Collector stands out as an early glimpse into how versatile and driven she is in regards to her role choices. Directed by Philip Noyce in 1999, The Bone Collector sees Jolie as New York police officer Amelia who, alongside quadriplegic ex-forensic expert Lincoln (Denzel Washington), must solve a series of grizzly murders.
The film itself is very much of its time. It’s a pretty typical 90’s crime drama with pleasantly cheesy editing transitions, somewhat clunky dialogue and real reach in murderous motive; making a silly but easy to follow non-thrilling thriller.
However, despite the film’s simple narrative and lack of general depth, Angelina’s character is more subtly complex than we might originally appreciate.
Jolie has always been known for choosing strong women to play but she rarely limits herself to stereotypical ideas of what makes a female character strong. Her role as Amelia is a great example of how Jolie uses the combination of androgynous performance and vulnerability as a way to exude strength and relatability.
Amelia is a newly recruited police officer; her appearance is subtle and Angelina’s sexuality, which is so often amplified within her roles, is downplayed. She’s fairly masculine in her appearance and, despite a throwaway comment on her past as a child-model, we’re encouraged to believe that her lack of overt sexuality is because she wants to be taken seriously, something she’s still trying to coax out of her male colleagues.
This general idea that beauty and professionalism cannot co-exist is an old and boring concept, it’s a paint-by-numbers part of character aesthetic. It’s the idea that if you want a woman to be taken seriously, strip her of make-up and any typically feminine apparel.
However, it’s Amelia’s vulnerability and displays of clear emotion that makes the character so interesting. We’re consistently encouraged to think of her as strong and fierce and yet Jolie’s performance allows us to consider that this also comes with empathy, fear and sadness; something we don’t always see within strong female characters, especially within 90’s cinema.
There is strength in her vulnerability and her willingness to be emotionally attached to her responsibility to protecting civility. It’s something Angelina plays so well and has carried through into many of her other characters.
1999 also saw Angie play opposite other incredible actors such as Winona Ryder, Elizabeth Moss, Brittany Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg in James Mangold’s Girl, Interrupted. Based on Susanna Kayson’s autobiographical book of the same name Girl, Interrupted tells the story of Kayson’s eighteen month stay in a mental hospital during the 1960’s.
While Ryder plays our troubled protagonist, Jolie plays the salacious Lisa, a hyper-sexual, cutting, often viscous patient that takes Susanna under her wing. With hypnotic eyes, pale skin, stripped-back blond hair and a savage wit, Lisa is an utterly intoxicating character. A charismatic sociopath, Lisa encourages Susanna to stop taking her medication and leads her down a path of toxic debauchery with utterly devastating results.
Jolie bagged herself an Oscar for Best Supporting for her role as Lisa and, for anyone who’s seen her incredible performance, it’s not hard to see why. As Lisa, Jolie takes us on a whirlwind of extreme emotional outbursts, ranging from total hilarity to absolute tragedy. She allows herself to completely transformed into this undeniably damaged character and it makes for utterly captivating viewing.
She’s a total scene stealer and there are several specific monologues that leave you wide-eyed and transfixed by the rawness of her performance. A personal favourite has to be the climax between Lisa and Susanna. After Lisa chases her down the filthy basement of the hospital, Lisa has a heartbreaking, suicidal meltdown that encourages us to feel a wave of empathy and pity. We’re finally able to see her for what she is at her core, and that is simply an unwell woman.
Jolie plays the character with an openness that is almost frightening to watch and is a really interesting and complex representation of mental illness; a conversation we all seem to still be having in regards to cinema and problematic connotations with violence and mental health disorders.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
How could we possibly have a list of bad-ass Angie characters and not include the legend that is Lara Croft? Sporting a dodgy British accent, Jolie first appeared as the gun-toting video game character in 2001 in Simon West’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and donned the holsters again in 2003 with Jan de Bont’s Lara Croft: Cradle of Life.
Angelia Jolie has always commented that she never wanted to play a Bond Girl but would rather have been James Bond herself. Well, this was as close as Hollywood was going to let her get and she does it so damn well. Are the films cheesy, kind of a mess and a product of its male gaze time? Yes, absolutely. Is Angie still a total badass? Yes, absolutely!
Following in her missing and presumed dead Father’s footsteps, Lara recovers ancient and powerful artefacts from around the globe, nabbing them before they fall into the hands of some seriously dodgy characters. It’s basic, simple but entertaining; it’s Lara Croft.
It’s fairly undeniable that Angie as Lara kickstarted a wave of teenage hormones and we could spend hours arguing the complexities of the male gaze and the underlined misogyny of this overtly sexualized character but for a time where female action heroes were far and few between, seeing such a physically strong character felt empowering for many female audience members.
The action genre is saturated with strong male leads and this was certainly even more apparent in the late 1990’s the early 2000’s, with films such as Mission Impossible, Gone In 60 Seconds and The Bourne Identity dominating the box officer. Therefore, seeing Jolie, who was already becoming a household name, taking on the lead role of a gun-toting, ass-kicking, intelligent, powerful action star encouraged women to enjoy the genre in a way that allowed them to feel represented.
Also, it’s a great Halloween costume, right?
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Doug Liman’s 2005 action flick Mr. & Mrs. Smith caused quite the stir during the press rounds as Angelina Jolie described it as a film where she and co-star Brad Pitt fell in love, even though Pitt was married to Jennifer Anniston at the time.
Oh, the boring drama of it all. While Hollywood was freaking out over the love lives of celebrities, I was freaking out over how unbelievably cool Jolie’s portrayal of a bored wife/secret assassin was.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith sees Jolie and Pitt play husband and wife who are bored with the monotony of everyday life and yet both have secret jobs as highly skilled assassins. When they’re given the task of taking each other out, they must face their marital problems head-on by viciously trying to murder each other; much more effective than couples therapy.
Despite raking it in at the box office, the film by no means changed the face of the action/comedy genre and often lazily borrowed ideas from other far superior offerings. However, the chemistry between Jolie and Pitt was entirely palpable and the general tone of the movie drew you in for an undeniably good time.
Jolie was a knockout as the highly skilled murderer and played off Pitt’s charm with ease and enjoyable tension. Her role as Jane allowed Jolie to have another crack at some seriously impressive stunts, including jumping out of a forty-story window, all while wearing a latex and leather dominatrix outfit.
However, the best example of just how much physical strength Jolie brings to her characters has to be the over three-minute long fight scene between her and Pitt. During this we see her brandishing a machine gun, dodging kitchen knives, throwing over tables and general kicking the crap out of her on-screen husband.
The violence is gloriously visceral, your limbs twitch with every punch and there is something seriously powerful about seeing Jolie strip away the false portrayal of Jame, the dutiful wife, and allow her true character to break free. We can all escape into that little world where we are more than our everyday lives allow us to be; somewhere we can be stronger, more dangerous and powerful!
Our final example of just how versatile and emotional Jolie’s portrayal of strength is one that completely differs from almost all of her other performances. Her role in Clint Eastwood’s 2008 crime drama Changeling saw her play a more tender and devastating role but one that was no less fuelled by a particularly feminine strength.
Based on the true 1928 Wineville Chicken Coop Murders in California, Changeling tells the story of distraught mother Christine whose son goes missing, only to be replaced by another mystery boy. Christine is determined to get her real son back and fights the authorities to look for her missing boy.
Changeling is a seriously difficult watch and explored numerous disturbing themes such as child murder, abuse, political corruption, misogyny and the mistreatment of the mentally ill. Angelina gives an outstanding performance as Christine and portrays the inspirational resilience that the real Christine was hailed for. Her time in the psychiatric hospital is truly some of the most difficult scenes to watch and yet Jolie makes them almost hypnotic in their tragedy.
Her usual on-screen magnetic energy is transformed into something altogether more disturbing as we see her in such a vulnerable state as Christine. So different is it to her other characters that to see her so shaken and small is almost as shocking as the horrifying details of the narrative itself.
Jolie was nominated for Best Actress at the 2008 Academy Awards and was widely praised for her role as Christine and with good reason. Much like her earlier role in The Bone Collector, Jolie plays Christine with a tenderness and a fragility that screams inner strength. Being able to see her so broken and beaten down by the powers that lord over her and yet still continue and fight for what she knows is right is the true strength and empowerment within this performance.
With multiple projects in post-production and with Angie currently filming scenes for her role as Thena in Chloe Zhao’s Eternals; there is still so much to come from this beloved actress. Whether she’s kicking ass and taking names or delving into an emotionally complex character, she continues to push for stronger roles for women and this so often spills out into her real-life humanitarian work.
She’s a babe. She’s a badass. She’s Angelina Jolie.