June 21, 2007

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A Mighty Heart (R)
Angelina Jolie amazingly makes you forget for a while that sheís a mega-celebrity and allows you to believe that sheís the increasingly frantic Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, which tells the story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and his kidnapping and eventual murder in Pakistan in early 2002.

Mariane (or, Jolie as Mariane) displays her franticness not in hysterics but as a reporter increasingly desperate to get to the bottom of a story that briefly held the promise of saving her husbandís life. Daniel (a perfectly cast Dan Futterman) leaves to meet a source who heís uneasy about but determined to talk to because of his potential insights. (Pearlís mission in Pakistan was the war on terror and its international manifestations. His last interview was supposedly with someone who supposedly had information on shoebomber Richard Reid.) Daniel doesnít come home for a dinner party hosted by the very pregnant Mariane and Asra (Archie Panjabi), the Indian journalist they are sharing a home with. As the night wears on, the two women (Mariane works for a French media outlet) use their reporters skills to search Danielís e-mails and track down all possible links to the contact heís supposed to have met with.

By morning, they start to call in the authorities and soon Pakistani officials ó led by Captain (Irfan Khan), a pushy FBI agent (Jillian Armenante), other US officials, an editor from the Wall Street Journal (Denis OíHare) and others have converged on Marianeís house and set up a command center to find the men that will lead them to Daniel. Mariane strong arms these potentially territorial different groups into working together and their digging leads to many arrests of potential members of terrorist organizations that have some connection to Pearlís disappearance. Things go wrong, however. Danielís picture gets out along with the allegation that he is a CIA agent. The kidnappers send out an e-mail with impossible demands of the US government, threatening to kill Daniel within days if they donít get what they want. The kidnappers then claim Daniel is Mossad (which, if they ever actually believed it, sealed his fate immediately). They claim he is dead ó a body is even produced ó and itís several hours before the claim is disproved. Eventually, Mariane goes on CNN in an attempt to humanize her husband for the kidnappers and perhaps get them to release him (or at least waver in their determination to kill him until an investigation can lead officials to Daniel).

From the beginning, we know how this is going to turn out. I felt the same sense of dread watching this movie as I did in the opening scenes of United 93 ó in both cases the action is almost excruciating to sit through and yet completely riveting. These events are a part of history and yet still, which watching A Mighty Heart I found myself holding my breath. This is a remarkable achievement for a feature film ó itís one thing to be interested in the facts around an event, but itís almost shocking to be completely caught up in a story thatís with a well-known outcome.

As with United 93, A Mighty Heart doesnít make its horrors melodramatic. The facts are awful without any embellishment. And, while this movie has the high-wattage Jolie where United 93 had no big names, even the genuine movie-star-ness of Jolie fades behind the intensity of the story. The skill of this movie is most in evidence in its climax (I donít really consider it a spoiler to tell you something you could find out on Wikipedia or just pull from your own memory). The movie shows us a group of investigators watching the tape of Danielís murder but never shows us. The audience feels the horror of what has happened through Jolie who gives an absolutely gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman overwhelmed by loss.

A Mighty Heart plays out the death of a journalist but it also honors him and his work as well. Despite Pearlís murder, the movie belongs in the category with All the Presidentís Men and The Insider, the kind of movies reporters watch to remind them why they do what they do. A Mighty Heart makes the reporter in me want to go to the dangerous places and find out whatís going on, to offer up some explanation and examination of why the world is the way it is, which is perhaps the first step toward making things better.

At the end of the movie, Mariane says that the kidnappers have failed ó their aim was to terrorize and she refuses to be terrorized. Perhaps the best tribute this movie offers to Daniel Pearl is that it reminds us of the unglamorous but very necessary work of shoe-leather reporting in dangerous places. A

Rated R for language. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by John Orloff (from A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Daniel Pearl by Mariane Pearl) A Mighty Heart is an hour and 43 minutes long and will open in limited release on Friday, June 22. It is distributed by Paramount Vantage.