Angelina, Action Woman

What could be more fun than a night in with Angelina Jolie firing guns and kicking butt? (It’s a question that doesn’t really require an answer.)

The Bone Collector (1999)

A couple of years before she got the Lara Croft gig, Angie played NYPD cop Amelia Donaghy in this film based on a Jeffery Deaver novel. On the day before she’s due to transfer to Child Services Amelia has the bad luck to stumble on a homicide scene, the first in a series of tableau staged by a serial killer, and does such a good job of assembling forensic evidence in trying circumstances that she comes to the attention of leading forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme. Rhyme, played with attitude by Denzel Washington, was left a tetraplegic by a former case, but there’s nothing wrong with his brain, and using a reluctant Amelia as his hands in the field Rhyme sets about solving the case. To her surprise, Amelia finds that she likes the work and has a talent for it, and so with Rhyme’s guidance is able to track this serial killer with a penchant for terrible death and signature of removing a bone from his victims’ bodies. I rather liked this, and with the gruesome killings and unremittingly dark crime scenes it is as much a horror film as it is thriller. There’s much that’s obvious about it – the killer’s wholly expected end game, the antipathy between Rhyme and authority figures, the way in which murder reignites his desire to live, and his inevitable interest in Amelia. Regarding the latter, the chemistry between the two stars is a highlight of the film, with the feisty Amelia giving Rhyme as good as she gets in the verbal sparring. His belief in her helps Amelia to have faith in herself, and conversely engaging with this young woman and bringing out her innate ability gives Rhyme a reason to live, to feel that he can contribute. They validate each other. The plot to my mind, engaging as it was, seemed a little too convoluted and unconvincing – murder for the attention of those who revel in doing cryptic crosswords, rather than something that might actually go down in the real world. Nonetheless, suspend disbelief and it is a highly enjoyable puzzle game, one in which the slightest detail is of significance (requiring some challenging logical stretches on the part of the forensics people). And, while the killer’s identity became transparent to the viewer long before it did to the protagonists, his motivation and method made a lot of sense once the character’s history was revealed. Angie did well as Amelia, bringing a credible nervousness and vulnerability to the character, and slowly growing into the role of forensic expert, while Washington was perfectly cast as Rhyme, a latter-day Quixote in search of a heavenly cause, using humour and self-deprecation to defuse volatile situations, avoiding self-pity at any cost.

Salt (2010)

Eleven years on, and Angie is back in harness with TBC director Philip Noyce and playing the title role of Evelyn Salt, a top rated CIA operative. One day would be Russian defector Orlov walks into Salt’s office and reveals that she is a Russian sleeper agent, who is supposed to assassinate Russian President Matveyev when he visits to attend the funeral of the US Vice-President. This is all part of a conspiracy to restore the power of the old Soviet Union and ultimately bring about the decline and fall of America. No longer trusted by her superiors and with her husband’s life in danger, Salt goes rogue, the first step in an elaborate game of cat and mouse where not even the viewer is entirely clear whose side Salt is on. I have to admit finding this all slightly preposterous. Yep, Russian sleeper agents makes a kind of sense, but why on earth would Orlov out Salt in such a spectacularly public way, and how could her mission to kill the Russian President have been planned so meticulously all those years ago, before those in charge knew of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War? And the long, protracted chase scene early in the movie was just tedious. On the plus side, the film did keep us guessing what Salt’s motives were, whose side she would ultimately prove to be on and why, and Angie certainly looked the part of a ruthless CIA operative, with the end fight against Liev Schreiber providing a suitable, edge of the seat climax to the action. And there was an agreeable lack of sentimentality in the fate of her husband. I just wish it had all been a bit more credible. Originally this was pitched as a Tom Cruise vehicle – I wonder how that would have panned out.

The Tourist (2010)

Angie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, an Englishwoman abroad in Paris and Venice, the former lover of Alexander Pearce, who double-crossed a gangster and avoided a fortune in back taxes. The British police are surreptitiously trailing her, just in case Pearce, who is believed to have undergone plastic surgery, shows up. And he does, sending Elise a note that instructs her to pick up a man and delude the police into thinking that he is Pearce. The man she selects is a mathematics teacher from Wisconsin named Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), and the two are drawn into a romance of sorts. From then on it’s a fight to survive the attentions of corrupt police and violent gangsters, in a film where nobody is quite who they at first appear to be. If Salt was preposterous, then this drags it down to a whole new level. It’s billed as a comedy drama, but laughs are few and far between, and the thrills and spills are ludicrously contrived. Okay, Jolie and Johnny are beautiful people, but there’s sod all attraction between them, with little more to their performances than being an attractive clothes horse and smiling toothily at the camera – bad guy Steven Berkoff acts them both off the screen. The best thing about this is the scenery, which is breathtaking at times, but for a travelogue it outstays its welcome by eighty or so minutes. Call me cynical if you wish, but to me the most incredible thing about the film is the idea that the British police would devote so many resources to catching a tax dodger – it’s more likely that Pearce would be given a knighthood. I guess in trying to say something about corruption, the scriptwriters didn’t have a clue as to how deep it runs in the financial circles of the British establishment.

That’s one hit with reservations, one miss with no qualms at all, and a third film that falls somewhere in-between. What Angelina Jolie films do the business for the rest of you guys and gals?

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