These days, Angelina Jolie takes a lot of flak. I think some of it's warranted. I mean, you don't marry Billy Bob Thornton, wear a vial of blood, become half of Brangelina and not expect people to rag on you. But I think in all the tabloid nonsense, we humble moviegoers forget one thing -- Jolie doesn't slum it.
Look at her current slate of works in progress. Salt and The Tourist both sound like solid and intriguing films, with good people like Phillip Noyce, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Johnny Depp and Liev Schreiber making them something more than Jolie showcases. And remember, Salt was originally a Tom Cruise vehicle, and the lead character underwent a sex change. That's fascinating. How many times does a spy thriller end up revamped to star a woman? I'm really, really hoping that the overhaul went no further than abiding by James Cameron rules of gender, and they just called up the script, did a find / replace on all the male pronouns, and called it good.
On the pre-production side, she has Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity to her name. Centering on a lone female astronaut who just wants to get home, it not only conjures up Sam Rockwell but Sigourney "Goddess" Weaver. Jolie is also still attached to play Kay Scarpetta, and The LA Times revealed this week that Scarpetta is being prepped to carry her own franchise. They're starting out with a fresh origin story by screenwriter Kerry Williamson who is trying to create a Scarpetta who is still struggling to find herself.
"There's almost like this brewing passion in her, and intensity and sexuality that she doesn't feel comfortable unleashing," Williamson told the Times. " In the books, she's further along as a character, at the height of her career. In the screenplay, we bring her back to a time before that, when she's just charting her course, and trying to break the glass ceiling. She sees what society might consider her female traits -- intuition, compassion, instinct -- as a weakness in the real world. Yet that is where her power lies. Her evolution is into accepting that." Of course, Scarpett and Patricia Cornwall fans may disagree with that approach (they've already begun protesting, despite that the project has Cornwell's enthusiasm and blessing), and we're all sick of origin stories that kick off franchises. But I can't help but admire Jolie for not only trying to get her own franchise, but for tackling a character who has something better to do than worry about wedding bells. She has to dissect corpses and solve crimes. Scarpetta has a real job. That's revolutionary.
Jolie's past record isn't too shabby either. Her fluffy films (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Tomb Raider, Wanted) may be of varying quality (though I enjoyed Smith for what it was), but at least they have grit and guns. They're not about shopping. Her dramas (Taking Lives, Beyond Borders) weren't good, but they at least featured characters who cared about something bigger than themselves. On paper, they probably looked terrific. A Mighty Heart and Changeling may have fallen short for a lot of critics and moviegoers, but both were compelling and heartbreaking stories.
What I admire about Jolie is that she does consistently manage to find those good roles and substantial films. Perhaps the films don't always turn out, or her performances are uneven, but I can at least give her credit for trying. On paper, Beyond Borders probably looked like an Oscar winner. Such picks indicate Jolie seems to hold herself above the silly stuff. How does she do it? I suspect she gets the plum picks because she's Angelina freaking Jolie, queen of everything, an instant headline and photo gallery the moment she walks on a set. If she wants a role, she probably gets it no matter who else might be in the running, or how appropriate she is for it. But hey, she could keep that starry stature simply by making romantic comedies if she wanted to. But she doesn't. She plays Kay Scarpetta, spies, and relief workers, presumably because she cares about doing something substantial. I think that's something to be commended, especially when other actresses seem to talk a lot about wanting better parts while upholding, oh, The Ugly Truth or The Proposal. Now, to be fair Jolie isn't the only one out there who is sticking to her guns, but she seems to be laughed at and derided for trying as opposed to Sandra Bullock who has practically been sainted for The Blind Side.
Besides, Jolie was Lara Croft. And she beats up guys onscreen. The fact that she got to outwit and smack around the likes of Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, Clive Owen, and Gerard Butler means she'll always be cool in my book. She could retire tomorrow and I'd say well done, thanks for trying, and it was kind of fun to watch you. You get an A for effort. Not that you need it, being Angelina Jolie and all.