A Mighty Heart

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This review was written for the festival screening of "A Mighty Heart." 

CANNES -- Michael Winterbottom's expertly fashioned documentary-style drama "A Mighty Heart" relates the intense manhunt launched in Pakistan when jihadists kidnapped Wall Street Journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Angelina Jolie delivers a well-measured and moving performance as the reporter's wife, Mariane.

With the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston now missing and believed kidnapped for 70 days and journalists in danger in hotspots around the world, a film version of Mariane Pearl's book about the search for her husband could not be more timely.

Set for release in the U.S. in June and the rest of the world in September, the film's even-handed approach to incendiary topics should generate substantial interest.

Jolie's voice-over sets the scene as the movie begins in Karachi, a vast, sprawling city where her husband went missing. He was on assignment to meet a man who could tell him more about Richard Reid, the captured shoe bomber. The events of Sept. 11 were not long past, and the situation was made difficult by the Wall Street Journal going public with the fact that it had turned over a suspicious computer to the CIA.

The film traces Pearl's movements on the night he was kidnapped, with him being warned several times to meet his contact only in public. His trail died when a taxi dropped him off at a restaurant. When he fails to return to the place where he and his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, are staying, she calls in the authorities. Senior people from the newspaper including John Bussey (Denis O'Hare) and Steve LeVine (Gary Wilmes) drop everything to help in the hunt headquartered at the home of the Pearl's friend, writer Asra (Archie Panjabi). U.S. diplomatic security specialist Randall Bennett (Will Patton) and representatives of assorted American agencies join the team that is led by the head of the Pakistani counter-terrorism unit who is known as Captain (Irrfan Khan).

The news breaks internationally, and various parties claim that Pearl is with the CIA or Mossad, which complicates things. One Pakistani government member dismisses it as a crime by India. Winterbottom shows the painstaking steps taken to link one mobile phone caller to the next and efforts to track down a single Internet provider that is used to send e-mails about the kidnapping. Marcel Zyskind's cinematography captures the frantic bustle of the over-populated city as agents swarm into tenements to arrest suspects.

The film alarmingly implies that torture works when one suspect reveals names under duress and watching the no-holds-barred approach of the Pakistani authorities on a raid, the American Bennett declares, "I love this town!"

For the most part, however, the film reflects the dispassionate view espoused by Mariane Pearl, who sees that it is misery that breeds terrorism. Jolie plays her with respect and a firm grasp on a difficult accent influenced by France and Cuba. She has a powerful scene in which she lets out a shriek of grief that will be recognized wherever people suffer from terror and loss.


A MIGHTY HEART
Paramount Pictures
Produced by Plan B Entertainment, Revolution Films
Credits:
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: John Orloff
Producers: Brad Pitt & Dede Gardner, Andrew Eaton
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Mark Digby
Music: Harry Escot, Molly Nyman
Costume designer: Charlotte Walter
Editor: Peter Christelis
Cast:
Mariane Pearl: Angelina Jolie
Daniel Pearl: Dan Futterman
Asra Nomani: Archie Panjabi
Captain: Irrfan Khan
Randall Bennett: Will Patton
John Bussey: Denis O'Hare
Dost Aliani: Adnan Siddiqui
Steve Levine: Gary Wilmes
Masud the Fixer: Daud Khan
Omar/Bashir: Alyy Khan
Suleiman: Taj Khan
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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