Dear Angelina Jolie…

Art & Culture

Dear Angelina Jolie,

It is hard to think about you simply as an actress, given your celebrity marriage, your charitable work, and your work as a director, but lets' try anyway.

If anyone wanted to find an image of the archetypaly beautiful woman, it would be hard to look beyond you. Boring but relevant. Your face and body image are so perfect, along with your conscious use of them to create an iconic presence, that it is easy to overlook the fact that in a film career of almost exactly 20 years, you have been very good in a very few of excellent films, for which you receive credit, without being slagged off for the poorer stuff. And although you're only 38, it feels as though you've been around for ever.

Hackers is now seen as being ahead of its time, since in 1995 the internet was in its infancy and the idea of computer viruses was still a novelty. The hairstyle is a little weird, but your eyes and lips combine to give a unique combination of intelligence and sensuality that has carried you through ever since. 

In the next five years you appeared in a series of forgettable movies, even when – as in Pushing Tin – you were alongside Cate Blanchett, John Cusack and husband to be (and then not to be) Billy Bob Thornton. Things took a turn for the better at the end of the millennium, however, when you were cast alongside Winona Ryder (hard to believe, right?) in Girl Interrupted, a none-too-subtle take on mental illness among young women. Were you surprised to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and then astonished to be announced as the winner? Probably not; you seem (and appearances can be deceptive) to be so calm and self-assured that it may have just been a nice treat.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider  was never likely to win any nominations (pre-Razzies), but it did up your iconic status as action heroine/sex symbol for those who liked computer games, with James Bond-to be Daniel Craig in your slipstream. And it's always important to have the odd hit if you want a long term career, and be allowed to make the occasional left field movie, or personal project such as Beyond Borders, based on your experience as a UN ambassador.

Fast forward to 2005, and we come to the film that marks a turning point, not because it was much good, but because Mr And Mrs Smith was the moment when you became one half of Mr and Mrs Pitt. Since then, you have been media fodder and have handled the fact with extraordinary good grace and elegance. Rather you than me. I guess having a film star father helped prepare you for the bullshit.

In the subsequent 9 years, you've apportioned your acting time between a) stuff for the kids – i.e. Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2 (with 3 on the way); b) multiplex action movie trash – Wantedand Salt; c) rubbish pure and simple – The Tourist; and d) a couple of good films requiring some real acting.

First came A Mighty Heart, in which you played Mariane Pearl, wife of the murdered diplomat Daniel Pearl. t's unusual for Michael Winterbootom to cast an A list movie star like you in a leading role, but it paid off, critically if not commercially, and gave you some much-needed kudos. The following year, you were cast by Clint Eastwood (and who's going to say no to him?) in Changeling, as a woman in the 1920s whose son disappears one day. It's a gripping and occasionally harrowing film, which is based on a  true story, and you lend a good deal of emotional credibility as a woman under the strain of losing her son, with the added stress of being accused of mental illness when a boy who is returned is clearly not her son.

It's a shame that you don't tackle more roles with this level of intelligence and complexity, but you give the impression of someone who manages their career extremely carefully, apportioning time between your children, your good deeds and your husband's career. It may be that because you've realised you can't do everything, you get to do a good deal of different things. From a film critic's point of view, it's easy to feel short changed – like a Rolls Royce which only gets taken out once a year – but the payoff may be that you protect your sanity.