A Mighty Heart
Angelina Jolie has become more of an icon than an actress, but the fact is she once was an actress in spite of bad choices of films, using her sensous mouth and great bones to command the screen no matter what the quality of the film was. And now, with "A Mighty Heart," she's surmounted her "Lara Croft" persona and uses her sensuous looks and magnetism to play Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter; I'm happy to report that she's made her a believable character.
She plays Pearl's wife Mariane, a Cuban-Frenchwoman who worked for French public radio; and the story starts out in Karachi on the day he leaves her for one more interview with the mysterious Sheik Gilani; an appointment he won't come back from. The film, using occasional flashbacks to the Pearls' life before the kidnapping, is at once a police procedural and a portrait of a tough woman (almost six months pregnant at the time) dealing with the horrific day by day news or lack of it, until the end comes as we know it will.
The film was directed by Michael Winterbottom, who's never been afraid to deal with contemporary issues ("Welcome to Sarajevo" and "The Road to Guantanamo"); he uses digital video and hand-held shots of Karachi, of the sounds of that overcrowded city to set the futility of trying to find someone missing there. Mariane describes the city as having "So many people, how do you find someone there?"
But the Pakistani police know their business, working from cell-phone records to trace the contacts among the kidnappers, questioning them, learning bits and pieces about the group; the police captain (Irrfan Khan) has the quality of the best investigators, knowing how to get the most information from his suspects; it's fascinating to watch him at work. The film alternates between the police work and the house of Mariane's friend Asra (Archie Panjabi), where Mariane is staying; it becomes the central headquarters for the search.
As we already know the outcome, Winterbottom and his writer John Orluff don't bother to pump up the suspense unnecessarily; but interestingly we find ourselves, with each step that gets us closer to the kidnappers, suspending our disbelief and holding our breath as we watch the cat-and-mouse game as the police get closer to their quarry.
But what holds the film together is a fine performance by Jolie; she's taken on Mariane's French accent (flawlessly) and carries herself with the heaviness of the pregnant woman. She is magnetic on screen; we look to her for our own cues about the search for the kidnappers; it's only when she snaps at the news of Dan's death that she lets herself go; it's what we ourselves would do at that moment too.