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'A Mighty Heart': Holding back really gives more
For globe-trotting celebrity Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart isn't just a chance to showboat.
By Steve Persall, Times Film Critic
Published June 21, 2007
A Mighty Heart Grade: B Director: Michael Winterbottom Cast: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Will Patton, Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan, Denis O'Hare, Gary Wilmes Screenplay: John Orloff, based on the book by Mariane Pearl Rating: R; profanity, violence Running time: 100 min.
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What impresses about A Mighty Heart is how unimpressive Angelina Jolie - its chief reason for existing - tries to be.
The world's most beautifully noble celebrity has every right to make this her showcase; Michael Winterbottom's serious film wouldn't gain much attention in playful summertime without her. But Jolie doesn't play the eventual widow of a real-life martyr for truth with showboat scenes and carefully posed camera angles.
She makes the movie better because of her restraint. Something smacks of humility. Maybe Jolie truly is more than tabloids assume.
Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, whose husband, Daniel, was kidnapped and beheaded by jihadists in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. Pearl was an early casualty of the war on terror, a dedicated Wall Street Journal reporter tracing one too many leads in a sticky situation.
A Mighty Heart is less about love or politics than about the frantic hunt for Pearl and his captors. Mariane might have been considered just one part of the ensemble cast if someone less famous than Jolie had been cast.
The Academy Award winner can handle spotlight moments, but she appears to have more interest in the story than her legacy in it. When Jolie succumbs to Hollywood with a hysterical scene, it is played too long, as if she is packing enough histrionics for a whole movie into one minute.
That anguished outburst occurs late, after Mariane learns Daniel's grisly fate. Until then, A Mighty Heart is a quietly engrossing film, first for Winterbottom's tour of Karachi's bustling squalor and anti-U.S. tension. Daniel Pearl Dan Futterman is an idealist in his profession and a realist. He knows he should get pregnant Mariane to safer surroundings. One more interview with a sheikh with Al-Qaida information, and they'll return home.
Pearl goes missing, and John Orloff's screenplay (based on Mariane's book) becomes a police work procedural in a country without civil liberties. Torture is a tool used for purposes the audience can support. Suspects defiantly obstruct Western ideals of justice. A local detective known only as the Captain (Irfan Khan, The Namesake) is a tough cookie, and a U.S. security contractor (Will Patton) marvels at his tactics.
Mariane mostly stays in her rented apartment, consoled by Daniel's assistant (Archie Panjabi) and Wall Street Journal editors who feel a bit guilty about Daniel's predicament. Mariane urges the investigation but never intrudes; Jolie plays her patient anxiety well.
A Mighty Heart never races to its conclusion. Like Costa-Gavras' similar manhunt Missing, the movie is almost too methodical. Winterbottom depicted political tension before in Welcome to Sarajevo with more outrage, and Jolie's stances against injustice are well-documented. You would think they would push an agenda of sorts. Maybe that's the something extra the movie needs.