The Bittersweet Return of Angelina Jolie, Action Star

Early in the action thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, Angelina Jolie’s character, Hannah, straps on a parachute and hops onto the back of a pickup truck.

Those Who Wish Me Dead, based on the 2014 Michael Koryta novel and directed by Taylor Sheridan, marks Jolie’s return to the action genre after more than a decade away.

It’s a letdown to see Jolie limited by the thin role, and to see the film continue a Hollywood trend of diminishing her, and other older female action performers’, potential in the genre.

So it’s easy to see why Jolie chose Those Who Wish Me Dead: Hannah’s role doesn’t involve much martial-arts training, the movie is 100 minutes long, and the set pieces occur within a radius of only a few miles.

Meanwhile, Salt, a 2010 spy caper led by Jolie, ended on a cliff-hanger but failed to yield sequels, despite the film raking in healthy box-office returns.

Besides, 40-something actresses rarely lead action films—even though Jolie is 13 years younger than Tom Cruise, and 23 years younger than Liam Neeson.

Even as the script apparently forgets to explore Hannah’s personal trauma, Jolie maintains the emotional through line, capturing a fragile toughness to the character—her instincts are not to embrace Connor, but to avoid feeling anything that might shatter her.

She gets beaten up relentlessly by the elements and her enemies, to the point of being tortured by one of the assassins, as if the writers believed viewers needed additional proof of Hannah’s toughness.

And though she’s continually made the case for herself as an action hero, even now, reviews for Those Who Wish Me Dead question the effect of her “ice-sculpture perfection” on the film’s believability—as if a film featuring Hannah getting hit by lightning needs to be believable—and whether audiences can “get past the miraculously dewy complexion and on-point smoky-eye look.” In the past decade, Jolie has used her fame to elevate the story of the Cambodian Civil War, co-author a book on protest rights geared toward teenagers, and even criticize the United Nations, where she advocates for the rights of refugees.

“There have been times in my life where I have felt—and maybe I’ve hidden them well from the public—where I have not felt free, I have not felt safe,” she said in 2019 of her celebrity.

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