Angelina rarely takes a photo that isn’t striking — even if it’s not a world-beater of a perfect pic — because, well, those eyes. That face. So someone please tell me why her left hand is covering part of it, and casting an eerie shadow. Granted, Angelina is a complicated person who once wore blood in a vial around her neck, so eerie isn’t actually off-brand for her. That’s fortunate. But the open-lipped nibble-my-own-finger pose is almost never successful. And worse, for me, it’s at odds with what the cover story wants to convey. The interview clearly intends to cast Angelina as a strong, savvy intellectual and creative force who’s reclaiming her life and her family. The cover, however, puts her out there as a digit-suckling vixen. I’m not saying there isn’t strength in sexuality; there absolutely is, and given that this is a woman who had her breasts and uterus removed as a proactive measure to protect herself against her genetic likelihood of cancer, portraying her with a thriving, intact sensuality and womanhood and confidence is important. And she does briefly touch on that near the end of the interview:

The idea that she could still be anyone’s idea of a sex symbol is laughable to her. But she says, “I actually feel more of a woman because I feel like I’m being smart about my choices, and I’m putting my family first, and I’m in charge of my life and my health. I think that’s what makes a woman complete.”

But am I wrong in thinking that angle has been covered already? The battlefield she’s on right now is different — her post-split life, the limb she went out on to make this movie in and about Cambodia — and more interesting. I would’ve liked to see Vanity Fair for its cover stretch itself beyond the sex symbol thing, which feels so disappointingly mandatory in discussions of Angelina Jolie at times, and into something richer. (Having said that, there is one shot inside that’s hauntingly elegant. It’s not a cover candidate, but it was well done.)

The story is very, very Team Jolie. Which is to be expected. Unless the cover subject acts like an unmitigated asshole, it’s rare that a profile writer is going to do anything but appreciate them — and that doesn’t mean it isn’t also an honest portrayal; just an unsurprising one. Rarely do they have a celebrity sit for the cover and then turn around and slice and dice them in the article. But there’s one anecdote in there that really bothered me.

In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, the casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie. “Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,” Jolie says. “When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.” Jolie then tears up. “When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.”

Note that the writer calls it “rather disturbing in its realism” but goes no further. Why not go further? Why not ask about whether they were worried about the repercussions of such a game on the children? Asking them to imagine the thing they need to pay for most, then encourage them to pretend to steal to pay for it, and then lie about it… I mean, I want to know if those kids got to keep the money after the exercise was over, because otherwise that sounds like emotional torture. Here are these rich, privileged white people tossing cash on a table that doesn’t mean anything to them, and judging how much it seems to mean to you. What kind of taste does that leave in your mouth? And what kind of taste did it leave in hers? If she’s so bone-deep connected to Cambodia, it should have reverberated beyond just being a job interview.

[And it’s worth noting that for the article’s enthusiastic descriptions of how Angelina wanted this to be Cambodia’s film through and through, and hired countless Cambodians to work on the film — positive impulses to be sure — it also states that she collaborated with the government and even used actual Cambodian soldiers, which has caused rather a stir among people who point out that the Cambodian government and military are not exactly poster organizations for human rights and that involving them is a moral gray area at best. It’ll be intriguing to see how this plays out.]

One of the reasons I suspect Angelina moves magazines, and why I find her intriguing enough to read about her over and over, is that — as a consumer of what’s been spun over her career — I both believe it all and I don’t. I can see all the positives and negatives being true, while also being overblown, all at the same time. (This movie may turn out to be the microcosm of that.) But what sets her apart as well is that all those colors and flavors, the light and the dark, somehow find a way to seep into a profile even when it’s being written as a love letter. She’s complicated, and it always shows — and that complexity feels fully baked-in, and lived in, in a way that the likes of Miley Cyrus can only try to imitate. Hollywood doesn’t often want its stars to have texture, any more than it wants its female characters to, and Angelina certainly defies that. Even when the mandate seems to be to sand off the edges.

[Photo: Vanity Fair]

Tags: Vanity Fair