I was inspired by a comment left on this blog by fellow movie critic M. Carter to contemplate the effect that celebrity has on the overall quality of a given movie star's performance. A lot of actors seem to lose themselves in the spotlight, the promise in their early material smothered by overexposure, the wrong projects or a simple over-development of ego. It's a strange balancing act a lot of performers can't seem to maintain. Does the Hollywood system, or maybe do we viewers, ruin our most talented actors by giving them too much wealth and adoration?
M. Carter's specific lament was for Angelina Jolie, an actress who seemed to go from scrappy attitude projects to high-profile tinsel town dreck overnight. While I wouldn't call Hackers a prime achievement of cinema, Jolie was certainly the best part of the movie. Also, it wouldn't be long after that she would absolutely kill in the role of Gia Carangi in Michael Cristofer's 1998 bio pic Gia. The year after that she stole every scene of Girl, Interrupted she was in. Then something weird happened. Angelina Jolie became synonymous with big-budget and small-brained action flicks and the occasional ill-fated prestige project. The turning point was Gone in 60 Seconds, a film that made sense for Jolie at the time but would end up guiding her career into some truly ridiculous territory.
It's downright tragic to speculate on what the world of film would look like if Angelina Jolie had stuck to her alluring, rough roots instead of diving head-first into the giant paychecks and hopeless stupidity of the summer blockbuster. It's almost as if she spent the first five years of her screen career proving that she was more than a stunning body and a pair of instantly recognizable lips then turned around to self-exploit as much as possible.
With so many fans to please, a lot of great performers end up hanging onto the most shallow parts of their act. Take Eddie Murphy for instance. In the 1980's there was no comic more promising. He all but inherited Richard Pryor's throne and practically every movie he touched was a hit. Some were even instant classics. Trading Places and Coming to America are still comedy gold, but for some reason Murphy thought it was his funny voices and costume bits that made these movies funny, not their sharp scripts, great casts and endearing premises. From the 1990's on, Eddie Murphy has made little more than a long series of increasingly embarrassing films. Like Angelina Jolie, he took one wrong turn early in his career and has never attempted to correct it.
I don't know what it takes for an A-lister to have a respectable career, but if the life on George Clooney is any model I'd say it involves living in a lavish Italian mansion, sleeping with supermodels and pretending to be Bruce Wayne. For all his excess, Clooney has managed to make more good movies than bad ones. For every Ocean's 12 there's at least one Michael Clayton and he's not above being silly for the Coen brothers every now and then. So, fine, we can't keep our big-name movie stars from being opulent, but maybe a few of them have the secret to a decent filmography.