My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/29/2010

Best Actress 2008: Angelina Jolie in "Changeling"

For a lot of actors and actresses, working with Clint Eastwood has proven to be a sure way to an Academy Award nomination. This was not different for Angelina Jolie who got her first Best Actress nomination for her performance as Christine Collins, a young mother searching for her lost son who gets caught up in a cover-up attempt by corrupt police forces, in Changeling.

The role of Christine is surely a dream for every actress – it gives her the opportunity to cry, to shout, to fight alone against a corrupt system, and on top of that, she even gets to go to an asylum. It’s a part that needs a carefully constructed performance that avoids too obvious over-the-top acting but that is also able to capture the over-the-top moments of this dark story. And Angelina Jolie only succeeds in part.

Angelina Jolie has proven before that she is able to lay down her movie-star personality and give honest and surprisingly effective performance. And she has even been to an asylum before – in her Oscar-winning role in Girl, Interrupted she has already shown that she can effectively scream, shout and lash about while five men are trying to remove her by force. But unlike her other work before, she was now able to insert a certain naivety and helplessness in her performance. Normally, Angelina Jolie seems like a woman who could kick every police officer in the city, but in this performance, she convincingly disappeared behind the unknowing and passive façade of a mother who lives in a time when it was impossible for a woman to fight against men.

Overall, Changeling is surely not among Eastwood’s greatest work – it’s mostly a manipulative and overdone story but Angelina Jolie’s performance is, to a certain level, able to both merge with this style but also fight against it at the same time. Her bleak appearance and desperate performance fits to the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the movie while she is also able to sometimes leave Eastwood’s manipulations behind her and show a true and honest characterization of a woman trapped in a nightmare.

It’s a performance of many extremes and a lot of Angelina Jolie’s scenes only work in the context of the whole film. Her big, dramatic outbursts of desperation are clearly over-the-top and leave a bade taste in the viewer’s mouth when they are taken out of context and shown as a short clip at an awards show, but in the world of Changeling, her performance makes sense and her exasperation and anger are believable. It’s a performance that can be incredibly phony and incredibly real and raw at the same time.

Right at the beginning, Angelina Jolie is able to completely let go of her off-screen personality and show a simple woman living a simple, quiet life. She only shares a few scenes with her son at the beginning of the movie but in these few moments, she already lays the foundation for the remaining two hours by showing a deep and loving connection with him with a few simple acting choices that neither draw attention to her motherhood nor seem over rehearsed but rather make it all look uncomplicated and true. Angelina Jolie is often able to play these quiet scenes much more believable than her big emotional scenes but unfortunately, Eastwood seemed to push her to bring her character over-the-edge too often.

Angelina Jolie both carries and harms the movie. It is her character’s tragic fate that is the emotional core of the story and it’s very easy to feel her frustration and anger when nobody is willing to believe or even listen to her, when she is cornered by the doctor in the asylum, when every word is turned against her – it’s very easy for the viewer to understand her and be on her side. But when her performance becomes too over-the-top and unbelievable, the whole movie comes close to collapsing under its own ridiculousness and its most memorable and disturbing moments come when she is not on-screen. It sometimes seems that Eastwood only sees her character as a necessary but unwanted plot device to tell his story of gruesome crimes and crazy killers. So Angelina Jolie has to play a passive and weak woman while fighting against an overblown script and an undecided director which more than once negatively effects her overall performance.

But even though Angelina Jolie still knows how to make Christine an impressive character and, most of all, make her believable. It’s easy to judge a performance when the viewer knows more than the main character – the corruption of the police force, the back story of the ‘chicken coop murders’, the simple fact that most women today would not allow themselves to be treated like this, all this could be easily hold against Christine and Angelina’s sometimes too withdrawn performance but she is able to realistically show a woman for whom it was not possible to see things in the same way as the audience. She shows Christine’s confusion, her desperation, her own doubts and her fear for her son in a believable way and she also demonstrates the change in Christine as she learns the realities of her case – the naivety and inexperience of her character are gone and replaced by bitterness and anger.

The most disappointing moment of her performance is her final scene when Christine, thinking her son may still be alive, says that she has new hope and gives a big smile before she turns and walks away. After all her horrifying experiences, this smile simply seems too out-of-place and it seems as if Eastwood decided to send the audience home with a good feeling despite the hopelessness of the story.

It’s a performance of incredibly mixed qualities as Angelina Jolie reaches heights and lows while she mixes honest emotions with fake over-the-top moments but she nonetheless creates a memorable character caught in a horrible situation and for this, she gets

9 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

I feel she gets more wrong than you seem to, but I agree she is not as bad as some make her out to be.

Fritz said...

I was atually expecting to really dislike her but I ended up thinking she was good (but not great).

Malcolm said...

She was pretty good (my 6th best actress of the year) but it's really an inconsistent performance. There are some points that her over-the-topness do work, but some just fail. Anyway, I'm glad someone liked her.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I actually like that smile at the end, perhaps because I think it's preceded by Angie's strongest scene (listening to the boy's confession). I think it's Christine's way of lying to herself.

I like this performance quite much. Only Winslet beats it for me, in a weak year. And as someone who doesn't like Eastwood, I like this movie.

Fritz said...

I agree that the scene where Christine is listening to the boy is very strong and your interpretation of the smile makes a lot of sense, but I just don't know...it's not just her smile, her whole body language seemed so overly happy and relaxed in this moment, it just seemed wrong to me. If it had been a smile to hide her true feelings, then I might have enjoyed it more, but the way Angelina did, it just didn't work for me.

Sage Slowdive said...

Oh goodness, thanks for mentioning that outer space smile she gives at the end.

I remember watching it with a friend and they started calling Christine a dummy.

joe burns said...

I thought she was very over the top and then very flat in some moments. I never believed it.

Simon said...

She was alright. Pretty paint-by-numbers, though.

Ivona said...

She is probubly one of the most beautiful people I have ever saw in my entire life! She is a very good actress :)